90% of writing books and advice columns use the same old phrase “Write what you know.” I understand the general thought behind this cute little trope, but it doesn’t hold water for me. When I read a book or watch a movie, I don’t want a sermon, I want an adventure, an exploration of the human psyche. I want to go on a journey with the author, not be lectured on some subject on which the author is an expert.
I’m not saying that every writer should suddenly write about rocket science simply because they don’t understand it. I’m saying that every writer should discover something about the world when they write their stories. When I write, I’m constantly on Google-
“What kind of hats did they wear in the 1930’s?”
“What’s a role in the military that is open to women that requires a lot of intelligence?”
“Are there wheat fields in Northern California?”
“When did the Germans bomb London?”
“What’s the minimum sentence for first degree murder in California?”
-these are all real searches I’ve done on Google (only one of which was not for writing, I’ll let you guess which… awk-ward!). These aren’t long hours of research into a subject, which I’d like to do but I’m not entirely sure where to start on some things. But while every search pulls me away from the word document for ten to fifteen minutes, I always come away knowing a little more about my world and often find more interesting things to include in my writing than simply what I’d set out to know.
I suppose in reality, I should recommend writing a combination of what you know and what you don’t know. There should be a part of you and your life and your experiences in everything you write, that’s simply how you relate to the stories you’re telling. But I often find the best stories are the ones where I feel like I’m watching the author’s own journey, not just the characters’.
So what do you think? Write what you know? Or learn what you want to write?