“Write What You Know” Debunked

When I was first starting out as a writer, I heard this common piece of writing advice “write what you know”. As a ten year old writer, this was depressing. All I knew was how to climb trees and run faster than most of my friends. I didn’t know much of anything.

But that’s where this advice is misunderstood. Writing what you know isn’t about writing about a car accident because you were in a wreck, writing what you know is about writing the emotions that go into such an event.

I feel like this is a common misbelief among writers. But it’s false. Maybe they should say “write what you feel” because I think that might be more accurate.

Writing what you know is about the emotions, what you feel. Or, in other terms, it’s about themes. So if you were in a car accident, you would know how it feels to be in pain. If you’ve ever lost someone, it’s not that you would know how to write a death, but you would know how to write the grief that plays into that. You know how it feels and so you know how to write it.

How to “Write What You Know”

To take this to a deeper level, I want to discuss themes.

Themes are my favorite element of any book that I read but it can be a tricky thing to get right when writing a book. This is when this writing advice is actually, well, good advice. I believe that in fiction you can make anything up and don’t have to rely solely on things you specifically know about. However, I would advise writing a theme that is close to your heart.

Using the earlier example, if you have ever lost a loved one before, you know how it feels to grieve. Therefore, you know how to write it. You could go into more depth with that theme than I could because I have never lost someone I was especially close to.

Or maybe you come from a divorced family and so you know all the emotions that play into that. You’ve experienced those feelings of abandonment, loss, sorrow, and perhaps even feeling you’re to blame for what happened to your parents. These are all emotions that would make powerful themes within a book.

But it doesn’t even have to be something as drastic as that. It could be an experience as simple as a sibling played a dirty prank on you and now you want revenge. Revenge is a common theme within books as well. And now you know a bit of what it feels like.

Sometimes young writers can feel as though they can’t write a good book because they don’t have enough life experience. I’ve felt this way before. But when you examine your life, I think you can find that you have a lot more experience than you might think.

It’s not always about events that you have been a part of or crazy things that you’ve done. It’s more about the emotions of day to day life. How does it feel to be a part of a divorced family? Or how does it feel to be a part of a loving family? How did it feel when you played an equally dirty prank on your sibling and got the revenge you so desperately wanted? Or maybe you chose to forgive them instead and “kill them with kindness” as the saying goes, how did that feel?

There are so many examples on how you have already experienced so much of life. And, the good news is, each and every day you experience so much more. Live life to its fullest and always be aware of these emotions within yourself or in the people around you. By doing this, you can have enough fodder for stories all your life and always be able to “write what you know”.

Your turn!

Were you as confused as I was about this piece of writing advice? What themes could you write about based off your life experiences? What is the theme in your current WIP?

Blessings, Allyson

4 thoughts on ““Write What You Know” Debunked

  1. You explained this perfectly!!! I completely agree with this – writing what you know is more about how it *feels* rather than the technical details of things you’ve experienced. (Because otherwise, who would ever be able to write fantasy or historical fiction or sci-fi! 😉 )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks!! Yes, that is it entirely! Exactly!! That is such a great point to add. And especially with a genre like historical fiction, it’s a lot about the emotion. I mean, every book is. 😂 But some more than others!

      Liked by 1 person

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