Do you believe people should "Write what they know" or not?

Discussion in 'Writers Forum' started by Gypsy_girl, Jan 11, 2005.

  1. Gypsy_girl

    Gypsy_girl Member


    I have just completed a writing major at uni, and something I have been told is to "Write what you know," do you believe this quote holds any merrit, or do you think we as writers should delve into the experiences of others and our imaginations / creativity for new story ideas? I, myself, do a little of both, it depends what interests me at the time, although I have found that saves a lot of research if you write what you know, but still, I'm just curious as to what others think.

  2. SelfControl

    SelfControl Boned.

    I dunno, I think it depends what you know. I'm not sure how literally you're supposed to take it, but what I know is basically sitting around moping and working checkouts. That is not in any way interesting, and I'd bore myself writing it, let alone someone else. I think it's more to do with writing your own opinions and putting a bit of yourself into a character rather than trying to write from a perspective that is wholly alien to you. And as with all these things, it's only a guideline.
  3. madbeast

    madbeast Member

    i completley agree with this. although i do find it interesting to research things, u really can get out a sertain feeling from ur writing when u urself are knowledgable on the subject being conveyed. just like no one knows urself better then u, no one knows how it feels to do soemthing through ur eyes, and i think its that which can put such feeling into sertain works. for example, i resently took up welding, and as a girl its a very different experience, but in my most resent story i encourperated this activity, and it came out very well. iknow that if i hadnt lived through it it wouldnt give off what i wanted it to give off.
  4. White Scorpion

    White Scorpion 4umotographer

    Writers should stick with things they know, however there is a subclause in that little university doctrine and it's called research. If you want to write a court-room drama, start getting yourself involved in law. If you want to write about Iraq either go there, or interview people that have. Research is the key to the unknown.(hmm...I think I'll copyright that!)
  5. YES write what you know. If you know mountains, write mountains. If you know antelope, write antelope. If you know how to make stuff up, make stuff up.
  6. Gypsy_girl

    Gypsy_girl Member

    Hey, Thanks for the replies everyone! I also agree with the comment about research, that if you want to wriet about a courtroom drama, to get yourself involved in law, etc, and that no-one else can convey and experience you've been trough as well as you can 'cause everyone sees things differently...

    Once again, thanks for all the replies :) any more?
  7. It all depends.
    They don't necessarily mean that you should use your experiences and what not. Some of that can be found from research. It is good in some situtations to gain some insight into the situation and some experience though.

    Most definitely use the emotions involved. Almost as actors use emotional recall, you can do the same in writing.
  8. browneydgrl

    browneydgrl Member

    my major is similar to yours, and i dont see what we all have to gain by writing what we know. no philosophy ever came from fact. and where is there a place for fiction in "write what you know"? people are naturally curious...a caged in writing technique goes against the drive that make writers want to write. there aren't barriers in any great literary works.
  9. White Scorpion

    White Scorpion 4umotographer

    Did Hemingway fight in the Spanish Civil War?
    Did Bram Stoker travel to Transylvania?
    Did Dickens visit the poorhouses of London?
    Did Henry Miller experience the brothels of France?
    Did Dostoyevsky gamble heavily?
    Should I go on?
    All literary majors know the answer to these easy questions.
    If you want credibility in a world brought together by the media, then have knowledge of what you're writing about. If you can't be bothered and just rely on your fantasy there are more earthly ways to succeed, but that applies to everything.
  10. roly

    roly Senior Member

    hmmm....well yes i think you should write "what u kno" simply because you cant write summat you dont can always do the research....but yes i think its good to can learn new things...and sometimes that makes what ur writing about even more interesting to you as you are fresh with the subject and you tend not to be as bored so easily. im a bit of a timid writer so i tend to write "what i kno".
  11. kidder

    kidder Member

    You could take your philosophy to the extreme and get mixed up in the voice appropriation debate. It was a silly bit of nonsense especially active in the last decade where 'writers' (writers?) berated others for having the temerity to blur identity and gender lines. Black people raged that a white writer shouldn't pen stories with black characters, feminists exhausted themselves complaining a man isn't capable of bringing to life a female lead. It was an ugly time. An embarrassment. Write and if you don't want to write what you know just write- convincingly. There's nothing wrong with impersonation- just be good at it.
  12. Duck

    Duck quack. Lifetime Supporter

    I completely agree.
  13. White Scorpion

    White Scorpion 4umotographer

    This is some good advice from a lot of cool cats, Gypsy Girl! I hope you don't dissapoint us! Have you started writing yet?
  14. BlackGuardXIII

    BlackGuardXIII fera festiva

    I was told by a prof. once that you should always write about what you know. The example he gave was, " If they ask you to write about baseball and you know lots about football, find a way to write about football." I can't remember his exact wording, but it went sort of like this....Every US citizen loves baseball, our national pastime. It is a great game, and I want to show how great it is in relation to our other national sport, football. In baseball, you don't have to be 300 pounds, but that is now the norm for an offensive lineman in the NFL. No one is out to sack you, tackle you, or straight arm you, like they do in football. Football is a very brutal game, that is why the players need so much gear. Running backs like Eric Dickerson wear literally every type of protection that there is.....and still gets hurt.

    You get the point.......
  15. Gypsy_girl

    Gypsy_girl Member

    :) I have to agree, this is great advice, and yes, I have started writing only for school and uni creative assignments though and a few from my own inititive. I've got 3 stories I'm looking to write soon, too.
  16. kitty fabulous

    kitty fabulous smoked tofu

    if everyone wrote like that i think it would be boring as hell. people say "write what you know", but i think they're referring to drawing on your own experiences, not limiting subject matter.

    i for one flatly refuse to write about being an unfulfilled, disillusioned housewife. i don't enjoy it; and i should think it would show in my writing and bore my reader to tears.

    but my main character in the book i'm working on now is a barefooter and a bit of a rebel and has friendships that function similar to some of mine. i've drawn on my experience, without limiting myself.

    the fictional worlds in my head are far more interesting.
  17. White Scorpion

    White Scorpion 4umotographer

    Blackguard XIII's professor gave him is actually sound advice, since politicians have being using it the world over for centuries. Twisting things around to say what 'they' want to say. Kitty musn't be disparaged by what may seem mundane. Combining your ground knowledge with a bit of imagination and rare events out of the norm, can create an interesting scenario. Let us take for example a garbage collector. At first, it seems a boring job. One day as they collect the garbage, they find a severed hand in one of the bins. Just then a black sedan speeds out of view. They call the police and next day, one of the men who found the hand is floating head down in the river. What happens next? Suddenly, you have a scenario. You get the gist. Another case would be how would you write something based on the past? Let's say for example, a Byzantine mystery. You don't have a time machine at your disposal, so how do you gain the experience for something that is impossible? A lot of research. If I was to write just the few things I knew and namedropped a couple of emperors and towns, I would get ripped apart by the scholars. A good example is Umberto Eco. His books have phenomenal detail. It will be difficult to reach his level of writing, but believe me, researching your work is very enjoyabe. It's a bit like being a detective.
  18. Sage-Phoenix

    Sage-Phoenix Imagine

    Very true, I love research, would be almost impossible for me to make up a detail if I've even an inkling that in 'real life' it could be diffrent. Guess maybe that's why I'm drawn to historical fiction.

    Well it would be pretty impossible to write something you don't know, in the looser sense of the term. And yes I agree it does bring a great sense of realisim to your work.


    I'm very much with Kitty on this one.
    It would freaking boring if people never wrote anything beyond their own experiences and knowledge. They'd be no science fiction or fantasy, and probably very little horror. Imagination goes with the territory, all stories are fiction and embellishment anyway. So why not add things to make them more intresting.

    So I say take a germ of personal experience/knowledge and let your imagination run with it. Seems that's what ever other writer does.
  19. BlackGuardXIII

    BlackGuardXIII fera festiva

    if everyone wrote like that i think it would be boring as hell. kitty fabulous

    True enough, I think that the context of the advice was if you were under a very short deadline, and had no time to research.

    I like the way Michener inserts so much true information into his novels. he really is a master of researching his subject matter.

    cheers all, Ken
  20. ArtistofPeace

    ArtistofPeace Senior Member

    You have to do a little of both. Yes, write what you know. However, sometimes when people stick to this form of writing, they end up with long, drawn-out accounts of their lives that no one else really cares about. In other words, what may seem interesting to the writer can be really boring to the reader...that is, if it's not delivered in an interesting and captivating way.

    When I write, I write using knowledge of things I've experienced and seen, but I don't write about my own exact experiences...or, if I do, I enhance them and create something new out of them.

    It's also important to delve into feelings and instances that you've never experienced yourself...use your creativity and imagination to explore boundaries; because really, there are no boundaries and you're free to go wherever you please.

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice