One of the most repeated pieces of advice for writers is to write what you know. But what does that really mean? When you take it at its most literal, this piece of advice means that you should write what you’ve experienced, what you inherently know as a person. But if we stuck to that kind of thing, I think we’d all be writing about being college students cramming for an exam, or about having a crappy summer job. And yet we don’t stick to those tiny parameters. Instead we write about wide-reaching lands and places we’ve never been to and people we can only dream about meeting or being. So why is it repeated so often? Well, perhaps it needs to be edited a bit.
In a recent blog post, the amazing and wonderful Chuck Wendig talked about this “old chestnut” of wisdom. There are some really great nuggets in Wendig’s post, as there always are, such as the challenge of this old saying to go and learn some more stuff. If you want to take “write what you know” to heart, and take it completely literally, then go and know more! There are books to be read, there are other continents in the world besides the one you live on, and it’s all waiting for you. Aside from this, though, the two big things that I got from reading Wendig’s post are as follows: 1) write what you understand, and 2) write what you are passionate about.
These slightly edited versions of the original “write what you know” may seem not very different, but I think they are. In writing what you understand, you are widening your scope exponentially. As Wendig says in his post, we understand plenty of things that we have not personally experienced because we are well-read, or have watched many hours of television, or have seen a great many films. All of these activities imbue us with an understanding of things outside ourselves and our lives. And as for writing what you are passionate about, that one is simple. If you’re passionate about something, you have likely read deeply into that thing, and therefore know it very well. And that passion that you feel deep in your bones for a topic will shine through when you write about it.
So what do you think about this updated version of that long-lauded piece of writing advice? Go read Chuck Wendig’s post and then come back with some thoughts. See you in the comments!
— Jet Fuel Blog Editor, Mary Egan