Friday, March 6, 2015

Don't Write What You Know

[photo credit]
Sometimes I hear writing advice that is fantastic!  And sometimes I hear more popular advice that seems totally off base to me.  One piece of advice that fits the later category is
"Write what you know." But think about that for a minute.

If every writer only wrote what they knew, we wouldn't have science fiction or fantasy novels. Those are two of my favorite types of novels. Think of the genres and wonderful novels the "Write what you know," rule would have put an end to!

Then I heard another interpretation of that rule. It said you don't have to write what you know, you just need to write what you're familiar with. Meaning that if you read only fantasy novels, don't try to write a historical mystery. When I first heard that idea, I thought it sounded pretty good. In fact, I liked it so much I applied it to my first novel.

You wanna know how that worked out for me? Before I wrote my first novel, I made a list of things I loved in novels. It included the following:

  • Wise Old Mentor
  • Training Sequences
  • Chosen One
  • Rebellion
  • Magical Savior
  • Prophecy
Needless to say, that novel turned out more than a little on the wrong side of cliche. It has improved in the last few drafts, but it is still very much a beginner novel.

So obviously that advice didn't work out great either. I completely disregarded the "Write what you know," advice for a while before I finally had a revelation about it.

Writing is so much less about plot and characters than it is about feelings. If a book doesn't make you feel something, you won't remember a thing about it.

So don't write about that you know about, personally, and don't write about the troupes that are your favorite, write about what makes you feeling things. Write about feelings you know, feelings you have experience with.

That's all I've got for today. Happy writing!
What's some writing advice you've heard but don't necessarily agree with? Leave a comment and let me know!


  1. That's a great tip, Sarah, because ultimately, readers want books to influence them emotionally. I'm doing hard core edits on a sci-fi mystery novel right now, and while I can't know what it's like to travel through space or meet aliens, I still can use what I know about how I react in certain situations and what I know about family and friends, to influence my writing.

  2. "Write what you know" has always really frustrated me, because I don't think it's true at all. To me, writing is about discovering new things--that's half the fun of it. I also LOVE your advice to write about feelings. If a book doesn't influence me emotionally, I usually don't finish it. Great post!

  3. Wonderful post! I really enjoyed it. The funny thing is, the only book of mine that I've published breaks this advice no matter what angle you look at it from. I knew absolutely nothing about volleyball, nothing about getting in a car accident, and nothing about being paralyzed. And I also had no experience with the emotions portrayed, either.
    On the other hand, I definitely recognize the value of this. Most of my other books do follow this, mostly dealing with emotions I know.
    Thanks for the post!

  4. This is a really good post, thanks!

  5. What a great post, so nicely put! Really enjoying your blog--you are a fabulous writer and I love your writing voice! Looking forward to reading more. Keep up the great work!


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