This post is primarily for less experienced writers who feel restricted by advice such as “write what you know”. This is one of the most common pieces of advice given to new writers. On the surface, it seems like a fairly logical and innocuous suggestion, but at the same time it can be restrictive. The problem doesn’t quite lie with the advice, but in the way many writers interpret it. A writer just starting out might have some grand ideas (mine were so ridiculously grand that I’m still trying to make them work four years later), but be put off by their lack of knowledge on a particular subject.
To use me as an example, my baby project, Coldfire, is a mess of former drug addicts, bureaucracy, possibly overused weapons and various random places to which I have never been. I don’t know much of anything on these subjects. If I had taken the “write what you know” advice literally, I would have just dumped the idea a long time ago and moved onto writing about white middle-class teenage girls in Australian suburbia. Yawn.
Here’s a better idea: instead of constraining yourself to a limited spectrum of experience, research what you don’t know. Hell, if you’re a speculative fiction (supernatural/horror/science fiction/fantasy/dystopian/etc.) writer, you can make some of it up. As many writers before me have said, advice should not be restrictive. If you feel limited by a specific piece of advice, toss it and find something better to put in its place.
In the next post, I will cover another interpretation of “write what you know”.