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Don't Write What You Know




The adage of "write what you know" is often used to remind writers to mine their own lives for creative material. If you're a mechanic, maybe write a story about a mechanic. If you lived in New Orleans or Atlanta (Nawlins and Alanna, respectively), maybe set a story there before setting a story in a place you've never been.

The idea is about pursuing authenticity, if I'm being generous. There's a danger in not doing enough research because the reader (or viewer) may be ahead of the writer on a subject matter and the illusion of the story will disappear when inaccuracies distract.

However, I think the phrasing of "write what you know" has the connotation of limiting people to what they think they know. Can I not write a story about a mechanic in the Deep South? Granted, I should do some research, but I don't want to be stopped from telling any story on a conceptual level.

Rather than hearing ONLY write what you know, consider reframing the advice into the opportunity that it actually can be. You have expertise. You know your life, feelings, fear, joy, and family better than anyone. You have hobbies and interests. You can use that as a jumping off point. You have an advantage in telling your story if you've already done more "research" than any other writer who could conceivably try telling your story.

So it's no longer "write what you know," but rather leverage your experience.

Is it the same advice? Sure. But I tend to think words matter and I hope these ones get you thinking in a new way.


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