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?
Or 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).
You might even think Nathan Englander has a good point when he says you should write what you know–emotionally. (This actually is excellent advice–writing about an emotion you’ve never felt might seem like a good idea, but the sentiments will be obviously hollow to readers who have experienced it.)
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 geeky heart kept creeping into my early work. Now, it’s perfectly fine for a little para to mix with the normal, but 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?
If you want to see more about what authors have to say on this subject, check out this article on Literary Hub.
If you want to check out some of the dark and macabre things I’ve written (including two FREE stories) click here.
Aspasía S. Bissas