Should You Write What You Know?

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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.

Going Solo

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According to a BBC article, recent research has confirmed that alone time is good for your concentration, health, and creativity. Is anyone else not remotely surprised? Any introvert can tell you that spending time on your own is a necessity, particularly when it comes to creative pursuits.

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As much as I enjoy spending time with friends, I seem to never be able to get any writing done when I do. Even if it’s only for a couple of hours, socializing drains me, leaving no energy to think, let alone create. I’m not advocating for isolation (unless that’s your thing), but the more time I spend being social, the more appealing the hermit lifestyle starts to look.

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I’m always a little skeptical of people in creative fields who are extroverts. The extroverts I know are constantly on the run, always social, always busy. When do they find time to create? How do they focus? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it’s difficult to picture someone coming home from a party and feeling inspired to do anything other than sleep it off.

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I’m still trying to find a balance between spending time with the people I care about and getting the necessary solitude I need to create. Sometimes I wish texting counted as socializing, or that I could carry on a conversation while mentally working on a chapter or two. How about you–are you an introvert or extrovert? What helps or hinders your creativity? Share in the comments.