Why “Write What You Know” Is Terrible Advice

For some of us, anyway.

“Write what you know.”

I can’t tell you how many times this advice has been lobbed at me. Sometimes I feel like it’s all I can do as a writer to fight my way through the phrase. First of all, I don’t feel like I know much of anything. Secondly, that which I do positively, absolutely, no doubt about it know…well, I find that I don’t bloom with desire to share it. Any of it. I know a lot about chocolate, but I don’t want to write about that. I know how it feels to be bullied as a teen, to suffer debilitating depression, but I don’t want to write about that, either. I know that there are people that can – that DO. I applaud them.

But that’s not me.

And frankly, dear Writer, it might not be YOU either.

If people only wrote what they knew, there are a lot of really amazing works that wouldn’t exist. Part of writing is exercising the imagination, thinking creatively, researching and learning and trying and failing and picking yourself up and starting again.

Maybe you suffered from disease. Perhaps you were abused. There’s a chance you lived despite horrible odds. Maybe you had your heart shattered into a million pieces by the person you thought was “The One.” If you want to share that story and you want to find and provide support for fellow survivors – bam. Write your story. I can’t wait to read it.

Maybe one or all of those things happened to you, but what you want to write about is a serial killer or a dude on roller skates or penguins. Then write about THAT. Just because you don’t have personal experience dealing with a serial killer or a dude on roller skates or penguins doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about it. Write what you want to write because that’s what is going to be passion-filled and beloved by your followers (or future followers, as it may be).

Perhaps your writer’s block is due to not giving yourself artistic license to write about whatever the hell you want. 

Quit asking for permission.

Stop looking for a way to incorporate what you know into your story.

Just write.


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