January 23, 2013

Write What You Know

There are two types of teachers of writing (is that a thing?) out there. One will give you the advice “write what you know”, and the other will go to great lengths explaining why that advice is bollocks.

The idea behind “write what you know” is that most you will be better at telling a compelling story if you stick to things you have a notion of. Problem is, if you’re a clerk at the postal office, your life probably isn’t full of excitement and the market for novels about postcards gone astray is fairly limited.

“Hang on there! Postal workers have a life outside of work you know! Stupid Swedish bastard…”

Yeah, of course they do, just like everyone else. I bet it is just as bland, predictable and boring to everyone not being a part of it as just about any life on this Earth is. Except mine of course, my daily routine could fill countless of volumes consisting of epic tales of great adventure.

What? No? Meh, what do you know…

Nevermind, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is the other side of the argument, that you shouldn’t give a shit about writing what you know. Just write what you want, because that is the story you’ll be able to tell in an entertaining manner, or so the critics say.

Right, so when I claim that rocket fuel is actually derived from bacon grease, you’ll let it slide? Actually, that one will probably get the pass, but when I fire up my 1950s rocketship with cranberry vodka and claim that it works because I just heat it enough, a lot of people will cringe. Enough of that in a story and it will end up a bad joke.

That’s not good, in case you were wondering.

What do you do when you want to know what is actually in rocket fuel? You research, you learn that shit, at least enough to feel confident enough writing about it. You might not research it right away, that can wait until after you’ve finished the first draft, but you will replace whatever nonsense you put in there with something plausible.

Which is funny, because you learned something and then you wrote about it. Despite trying not to “write what you know”, you know?

I find the whole “write what you know” thing hilarious. Because this argument aside, the real point I want to make is this: You know your story.

So write what you know. Write your story.

Thoughts? Let @tdh know on Twitter, or find me elsewhere. There is also a newsletter.