Wednesday, January 15, 2014

DON'T write what you know. (That's right. I said it!)

You've probably heard it said before to fiction authors - "Write what you know."

I have heard that. Probably 904389403 times total, in every class, course and conference I ever attended as an aspiring novelist. And to be honest, it was pretty depressing. When I first heard the rule, I thought "Great. Every novel I ever write is going to have to be about an author, a secretary, a wife or a mom." Because that's what I knew! That was my experience, per se, so...I thought that's all I had to work with. And while there's lots of potential in those categories, you can see how they could also dead end pretty quickly! Yikes.

Now, I get the gist behind the rule, but really, it's sort of backward. I think it makes a lot more sense to say instead - "know what you write".

You don't have to be an accountant to write about a character who is. You don't have to move to New York to set a story there. You don't have to become a celebrity yourself to write a novel from the point of view of an actress or famous singer. You don't have to be a fireman to write a story about one, or join the Army, or steal famous art from a museum to write about characters who did. (Please don't. Haha!)

But you DO have to do your research. Know what you're writing. Put effort into it so it is real to the reader. Don't assume you know, double check. Find out. Interview those who are/do what you need to learn about. For one thing, it's super fun, and it gives your story and writing a credibility and extra layer of relatability that otherwise will fall flat.

Totally worth the effort :)

So what are you currently researching for the sake of your story? Art? Music? Math? A certain time period? A particular sport? A day in the life of a famous person? Share in the comments :)


  1. Love this! I've always wondered the same thing, too. Of course, it's always helpful to write what you know--but what if you wrote a book on something that you wanted to learn about? That's what I love: Putting myself in shoes of people I might not relate to, and having them have experiences/interests that I am not familiar with.

    Right now I'm trying to research art for the sequel to Purple Moon. =) It's really interesting too! I love finding an area that might be similar to what I'm interested in (writing), but still not exactly the same.

    Thanks for sharing this, Betsy! =)

  2. I think I've always thought of "write what you know" as being "do your research!". I always spend years researching the history behind my books for that reason.

    Right now, I am making an exception. I am compiling my research into a couple of months for 'Remembering the Alamo', releasing in February. Lots of Jim Bowie, David Crockett, and Creek Indians research! And I'm releasing it exactly 178 years after the Battle of the Alamo, which I'm excited about!

  3. Oh my goodness. I've always heard that statement and cringed because if were to just write what I know, I'd probably write the most boring book on the face of the earth!
    I'm about to start researching ancient Corinth. I guess it qualifies was considered "ancient" when the apostle Paul was there. Reckon I'm about to find out... :)

  4. I always take it to mean write what your heart understands--the internal stuff. I can learn anything I need about the outside world, jobs, places, etc, but my life experience teaches me the part that makes a story live.