Do you agree with the adage “Write what you know”?

A very interesting question and I’ll be interested to hear everyone’s opinion.

Do I agree? Well.. I write urban fantasy and urban sci-fi so I guess not 🙂 But, that said. I do write about ordinary characters who are thrown into extra-ordinary situations, so maybe.

But I almost think that it is fun to write about something that is completely different to your ordinary life. To just make it up as you go along. But I do always seem to write about characters who are more than a little driven and ambitious… so maybe ‘writing what you know’ creeps into your writing no matter what genre you write in.

Mind you, I’m always in awe of authors who write about characters being terminally ill or growing up in violent households. I don’t think I could ever do that. I don’t think I could do the hard issues justice.

Thoughts?

About Jodie @ Words Read & Written

Book blogger & aspiring author.
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18 Responses to Do you agree with the adage “Write what you know”?

  1. Yep, I think it’s vital to do so. Even in Fantasy settings (and Urban Fant), it remains vital. I think our best work comes when we know every aspect of our creations (even though we only show a fragment of that knowledge to the readers).
    Daniel

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  2. Love the topic! I just wrote about this the other day. I say whatever works for you. I write both ways. Most of my characters are parts of me or based on people I know in one way or another. However, many of the settings and actions of the plot are fictional. I put real people through strange situations and conditions. Although in the future I plan on going to both extremes; all fictional and completely non-fiction. Should be interesting!

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  3. larina says:

    No. I believe that you should know what you write. The problem with writing what you know is that it limits so dramatically what you can write about. If you believe, however, that you should know what you write, then you can open yourself up to any topic at all that you can research. I also believing in writing TO know; sometimes I write to figure out something out, to learn, to discover what I know.

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  4. A.D. Everard says:

    Writing from knowledge is important. That is not the same thing as writing about your own life.

    I write science fiction about colonized worlds and a galactic war – yet I make sure I write accurately from the knowledge-base brought in by any character. Some of it (a lot of it, actually), I learned hands-on – martial arts, truck driving, motorbikes and some weapons handling, for instance. You can’t write a fight scene unless you know how to fight. If you’re going to use trucks, motorbikes or guns, it helps if your “expert characters” speak and act like experts.

    Areas I couldn’t take aboard directly, I researched – surgical procedures, the training for elite soldiers – even the language used at airports between planes and the tower. Everything. I love to research and pick up things I didn’t know that bring a richness to the story.

    My motto is, if you’re going to use it in your story, know it.

    I am always very aware that any one of my readers may be a pilot, a doctor, a law officer, a truck-driver, a martial artist, a soldier, or a host of other things and I don’t want them to put down my book in disgust for getting something wrong.

    Adding good and accurate detail also gives the story greater depth and that feel for realism that makes a book a keeper.

    So, yes, I’d say writing from knowledge is hugely important.

    Cheers! 🙂

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  5. miguelalex888 says:

    I don’t think we should take “write what you know” to mean as write strictly from your limited life experiences…I think it is more along the lines of writing what you are confident in, what you know back and forth like the back of your hand.
    As a fellow urban fantasy and sci-fi writer (what were the odds!), I think it would be like asking me to write a story about the life of an electrical engineer trying to finish his PhD. Can be done, of course, but I’d have to do some research first. Mull over the story in my head. Get to know the character and his struggles.
    Get to “know” what I’m going to write.

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  6. jjalim says:

    “But I almost think that it is fun to write about something that is completely different to your ordinary life.” That’s the same reason why I don’t watch TV anymore. Too many reality shows! My life has enough drama in it, why would I want to watch someone else’s? Just kidding. ^_^ When I do write modern-day stories, I do pull from personal experiences… but it tends to have too many filler scenes. I need to work on that.

    For me, the more honest approach to that old adage would be “I write what I pretend to know”. I enjoy writing fantasy (knights in shining armor and evil sorcerors… medieval setting) more because it’s outside of the bubble I live in, And since I am 30 -not 300 years-old- and have never picked up a sword or a bow (oh, I wish!) I spend more time researching terminology and facts about certain time periods. I watch certain shows (Criminal Minds is my fave) when it comes to sociopaths and their modus operandi or documentaries for certain characters… or just research on Wikipedia or Wikia for characters from another story/book with similar characteristics.

    I guess as a writer, it’s not much about what you know. It’s how to successfully narrate that story in your head… how you give your readers a window to see into your mind and to let them interpret the story in their own little way.

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  7. Kyle Marffin says:

    Not sure if ‘write what you know’ means a writer must work specifically within their own home locale, profession, family situation, etc. And surely writers working in any form of science fiction/fantasy will need to step outside of the ‘what you know’ box. But, that said, perhaps writers are merely being encouraged to work with situations, relationships or encounters that may come from their own experience. Or, when stumped for a topic or unexpectedly frozen by writer’s block, to draw upon their own real-world experiences for inspiration. Just guessing, though.

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  8. Widdershins says:

    Perhaps it could be something like, ‘Write what you’d like to know.’

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  9. jamessick says:

    I writing teacher of mine once said, “It’s not what you don’t know that’s going to tank your writing, its what you THINK you know.”

    Honestly, it’s best to know everything you can about every aspect of your work, but at the same time, isn’t it fun to let your characters tell YOU the story?

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  10. Amanda Wood says:

    Every writer is different…I am taking a creative writing class right now, and I have tried to stretch my wings a bit beyond the kind of writing I have been doing. But I have a basic style that is me, and that may or may not change as I evolve as a writer. I usually seem to start with a core reality that I have experienced. Then I build on it. So in a way, I write what I know to begin with, then my imagination can take over. But other people have a different gift and do the opposite, they write about things that no one has ever experienced…and that is amazing, too. Since writing is an art, I think that continued growth and experimentation is the key to our ultimate success. I always get bored when writers only write about one type of character. Sure, the first book is good, but after 10 books, it is so dull!

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  11. eriklehman says:

    I think that we should write what we know, to an extent.But only after we get to know the multitudes of characters in our heads. We can know everything. It is the author’s choice to decide what he/she knows, or wants to know. Wow, sorry about the “Dr. Seuss” paragraph. It’s really early in the morning for me. Coffee please 🙂

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  12. My first novel was set during WWII, so no. Write what is authentic to you, regardless of genre, setting, or time period. The rest will work itself out.

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  13. simondewar says:

    yeah 100%. Everyone has to write what they know.. but theres different degrees of “writing what you know”.

    E.g John Grisham was a lawyer, right? SO he starts writing legal thrillers and he does pretty well with them because he’s writing what knows and they come across very authentic with all the legalspeak etc.

    That’s one example of “writing what you know”.

    Another example, I work in IT so I could probably think up some cool plausible tech that could be used in a scifi. This would also be “writing what I know” even though I dont live in the future and that tech doesn’t exist.

    Other examples of “writing what you know” relates to emotion and life experience. This is most commonly overlooked by novice writers.

    For example.. we’ve all experienced horror/terror/fear/guilt/shame/remorse/joy/bliss/etc … when you, as the writer, authentically capture the essense of these emotions and transpose them onto your characters in your stories, you really are “writing what you know”. This is particularly powerful when coupled with experiences the average person can relate to – death/loss/violence/family/school/injury/love/relationsips/marriage/etc.

    This is called “method acting” for writers, or “Talking from the wound”.

    Using this skill you can write a character who gets angry at a cheating lover and kills them… and you can make it really authentic for the reader if you appropriately transpose what you as a human being know about guilt/betrayal/loss/anger/fury/revenge onto your story and your characters. You dont have to be an actual murderer to write one, but to write a truly plausible murderer you’d still have to “write what you know”.

    Get me?

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  14. simondewar says:

    Reblogged this on SIMON DEWAR and commented:
    Definitely think everyone MUST “write what they know”. What say you?

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  15. flightdoc says:

    I know my characters. I know their lives, but I don’t know everything that will happen to them. I research what I want to know and use my imagination to let my characters live their own lives. Start with what you know, but it stretches you to reach beyond.

    Scott

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  16. embrystical says:

    It’s rather hard to not know my characters when I talk to them everyday, so I suppose…

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