The “Write What You Know” Myth

Oct 28

 MYTH – noun \ˈmith\

: an idea or story that is believed by many people but that is not true

: a story that was told in an ancient culture to explain a practice, belief, or natural occurrence

: such stories as a group

 

The motto of “Write what you know” is probably the most misunderstood and misused sayings in all of writing. It is true that you will write a stronger piece with knowledge and confidence in a subject if you personally have experience in it. The myth though is that you have to have that knowledge prior to you writing about it. I’m not sure if the myth came about by it being misinterpreted by so many and passed on, or just an ignorance of those listening to it using it as an excuse to stay “safe.”

If there’s anything I learned while getting my journalism degree, it was that ALL writing is only as good as the research put into the writing. It didn’t matter how strong the sources were or how eloquent the quotes were, the writer had to know the background behind the story in order to put it all together perfectly.

When I wrote a piece on the school union vs. administration, I had never worked in either. I had to look up the history, as well as the personnel involved to get a deeper perspective of what the current issues were. I had to learn in order to inform my readers. It translates no differently with fiction. You do need to know about what you write. But you can very easily with time and effort, learn enough to be in the know. At that point, you will know what you write.

With today’s technology, there isn’t any excuse in the world for people to shy away from story ideas that they think they don’t know enough about. You can learn the lifestyles of a pirate or ninja, even though it would be almost impossible for you to become one. Ok, not impossible, but I’m trying to keep my readers out of jail. Don’t ever fear the topic. Attack it with confidence, because research is the road to knowledge. Writing takes time, but better writing requires a lot of time learning.

If I could change the motto at all, I’d say “Write what you’ve learned.”

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