It’s been repeated so many times it’s cliché: write what you know.
But is it true?
Do you agree with William T. Vollmann, who said that you should indeed write what you know, and that you should also have as many experiences as possible in order to expand your knowledge?
Or do you believe Kazuo Ishiguro, who said writing what you know results in writing “a dull autobiography,” and essentially leads authors to stunt their imaginations and potential?
Maybe you side with Ursula K. Le Guin, who absolutely agreed that you should write what you know, as long as you have a flexible definition of “know” (she happened to know quite a lot about alien planets, dragons, and the distant future).
Like me, you might think Nathan Englander has a good point when he says you should write what you know, emotionally. Although writing about an emotion you’ve never experienced might seem like a good idea, the sentiments will ring hollow to readers.
For me, I think American author Meg Wolitzer sums it up best: write what obsesses you.
And I’ll also add: because writing should be about passion.
When I wrote my first novel, what I knew was English Literature, so I wrote literary fiction. And there was nothing wrong with what I produced (I might even still publish it one day). Except that the dark, macabre, supernatural things that warmed my warped little heart kept creeping into my early work. When I realized those were the parts I enjoyed writing (and reading) most, I decided to focus on what obsessed me, starting with vampires, my lifelong fascination. I think my work is better now, and I certainly enjoy it more.
Whether you decide to write about what you know or not, you should always start from a place of passion, obsession, or love. Because if you’re not excited about what you’re writing, why bother?
What are you passionate about?
If you want to see more about what authors have to say on this subject, check out this article on Literary Hub.
If you’re interested in the dark and macabre things I’ve written, download them now:
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Aspasía S. Bissas