Last Monday’s post touched on the idea of “write what you know”. If you’ve ever solicited writing advice, this well-chewed piece of cud has certainly been passed to you by some supposed authority. It may be the most canonical tip out there (or the most clichéd–what a fine line separates those two!).
It has merit, for sure. Splattering your half-baked fantasies all over the page invites your reader to nauseously run it to the trash outside, holding it a long arm’s length away. Research can be a productivity-killing trap, and allows no margin of error–getting any detail wrong can ruin the credibility of your whole project. Sticking to what you already know to be true and real keeps you safe: safe from writer’s block and safe from being full of bullsnot.
Safe is boring.
The problem with “write what you know” emerges when it is taken as a thumbs-up that one’s autobiography–point A to point B to point C to point ∞–is literature or at least fascinating to anyone lucky enough to read it.
This doesn’t just apply to fiction and memoir, of course. In the zillions of non-news articles out there, the difference is plain between “I’m writing about this because I’m an expert sharing expertise that can actually help you and anecdotes that will actually interest you” and “I’m writing about this because it happened to me once and I couldn’t think of anything more interesting”. Amirite?
Look, I know I don’t have any special credibility spouting off about this. Ask me about the unintentionally hilarious 29-page story I tried to pawn off in college from the perspective of a girl in 1970’s Red China. I’m just scared of anything that makes a villain of the imagination. As writers, I think it’s our responsibility to see beyond the things rotting in the sun before everybody’s eyes.
P.S. Here’s the obligatory link to the same idea covered more thoroughly and lucidly by a renowned authority. Thanks a lot, internet.
P.P.S. What the hell, make it two!