Sunday, August 12, 2012

Write What You Know? My Opinion

One of the most common pieces of advice that is thrown at new writers is: write what you know. Here are some of the reasons why:

1.       It’s easier than attempting to write something you have no clue about. It’s going to be difficult to write about a rancher out in Montana if you’re terrified of horses and have never ventured farther west than Nebraska. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but a lot of research is going to be involved.

2.       The details. If you know something really well, chances are you’re chocked full of miniscule details that will take your story to the next level. Little things like how something smells or conversation tidbits can help ground your story in reality and paint a vivid picture for your readers.

3.       Oftentimes it is easier to write characters that you can relate to. You can make sure their thoughts/feelings/motivations are accurately portrayed because you (most likely) have felt the same things.

I think this is good advice to an extent. Anyone who knows my writing knows that my stories are out there, plot wise. I have written about characters that live in a trailer park, have an overweight family, are divorcing at age 90, have been struck by lightning, and (most recently) crew for hot air balloon companies. None of these things have ever happened to me.

If I limited myself to writing only what I know, I’m not sure I would be a writer. I write to discover. I write to understand why people do the things they do, why they react certain ways in different circumstances. I do think it’s important to have something in common with the characters so you can relate to them on some level. You don’t want every aspect of the story to be foreign to you. Something as simple as giving a character the same favorite pastime as you can be enough.

I think true writers are able to convincingly portray a character completely different from themselves. A true writer should be able to put himself or herself in a completely different pair of shoes and write from that point of view. Sort of like acting, but you create the script yourself. It’s my favorite part about writing, getting to be someone else for a while, someone whose life is 100% different from mine.

Do you write what you know? Or do you venture outside the box? Or are you somewhere in the middle?


  1. I was just thinking about this the other day as I was editing. For me, it's been a steady progression - each manuscript ventures further outside my comfort zone. If someone had told me a few years ago that one day I'd write a book like MTL, I'd have laughed. A lot. But now that I DID write it? I can't imagine not having it in my life, and I also can't imagine deliberately keeping myself in the realm of "the known," either. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday that I was telling you how nervous I was about writing Sofie since her situation was so foreign to me - but like you said, as long as we find something to connect with our characters about, that's all we need. They take over from there. So, my long-winded answer to your question - it's definitely somewhere in the middle for me :)

    1. I still love the risk you took when you started Sofie's story. You've grown so much as a writer, and I can't wait to see what challenge you take on next! :)


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