More Stories: The Creative Writing Podcast

Season 3: Episode  3 – Write What You Know! Sort of.

“Write what you know.”

This is common advice given to new writers: But, is it good advice? What does it even mean??

Write what you know cannot be taken to literally mean, “Only write about things you have directly experienced and completely understood and processed.” Otherwise, no fiction would ever be written except for thinly-disguised, fictional versions of the author’s real life. As if I were to write a story about Aaron Sherman White who drives across the skyway bridge only to realize halfway across that he’s forgotten the book he was hoping to have autographed at home and will have to turn around, thus paying the toll twice. Boring!

But KNOWING something is not limited to personally experiencing it.

The advice “write what you know” is meant to keep you from writing things that are unclear, inaccurate, or unconvincing because they lack the knowledge and detail to make it real to the reader.

In other words, the advice is really this: Don’t try to BS the reader. They have a Crap Detector and the sensitivity is set on HIGH.

How do we KNOW?

  1. Personal experience
  2. Experience of those close to us
  3. Experience of those we don’t know, but can learn about
  4. Research, study, interviewing, and increasing our knowledge
  5. Via our imagination and our cognition

WHAT do we KNOW?

  1. People
  2. Events
  3. Places
  4. Conversations
  5. Details

All of which are translated into the building blocks of writing and storytelling: Characters, Plot, Setting, Dialogue, Significant/Meaningful Details.

Three less-quantifiable ways we know:

  1. Emotions
  2. Senses
  3. Perceptions

And that is the real key to understanding this bit of advice for new writers. Write what you know, but you know more than you think.

I mention this in the episode:

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Podcast: Write What You Know! (Sort of…)