There seems to be a writing tip that everyone knows – write what you know. Some take it literally and set books in a time or a politically landscape they know, or have a character who works in the same profession as they do or they use their experiences like break-ups or redundancy as plot devices. Or they take this tip as encouraging writers to write about universal subjects we all know things about – love, loss, friendship etc.
There is no right or wrong way to write what you know but I think it sometimes can be a blockage to creative ideas because it can breed fear that you can’t write about things that you don’t know about. But do we ever really not know about something? We are surrounded by stories – on the internet, on TV, in films and in music and from people we know. Is there an event we haven’t heard something about? And even if it’s not us as writers experiencing it, we can still think about how we would think or feel or act if it was happening to us.
Writers have to create a world for their book which a reader can become fully immersed in – to do this we need to use imagination but also an understanding of real things – how people talk in real life, for example, and somehow produce it on a page and allow a reader to suspend any disbelief that the book world isn’t real. I don’t think this is easier or harder if you’re writing about something you have lived through or not. In fact, it can be harder if you have lived through it as what happened for “real” may come across contrived on the page.
I think all writers will slip some things about their life into their writing along the way but we shouldn’t be focused on putting our lives on the page. Writing about a world outside your own can be challenging and exciting and can actually help you discover things about yourself you never knew.
Do you think write what you know is a useful tip or outdated idea?