Tips for Writers: Write What You Know?

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This is a wonderful post on writing by Mitch Teemley!

Mitch Teemley

Magic_Book_by_iLeeh95

A successful writer friend once went tiradical on me when I mentioned the literary admonition, “Write what you know.”

“I hate that!” she shouted.

“Why?”

“It restricts you! What if you want to write about something you’ve never experienced?”

Interestingly, that very week I’d invented a two-storey tall talking bird named Aviar for my fantasy novel The Wishing Map. I confess, I have never personally known any two-storey tall talking birds. But I did know my father-in-law, an irascibly lovable, salt-of-the-earth Arkansan. And he was the model for Aviar. When my wife read the passage, she said, “Oh, yeah, that’s Dad.”

What my normally insightful writer friend seemed to have missed was this: “Write what you know” doesn’t mean “restrict yourself to direct experience.” It means: write the underlying truths you’ve observed about people, their quirks, motives, fears, hopes. You can invent the window dressing (giant talking bird, Viking warrior…

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8 thoughts on “Tips for Writers: Write What You Know?

  1. This reminds me of when I was very young and a new psychotherapist. I asked my trainers, “How can I possibly provide psychotherapy to people so much older than I? How can I supervise people older than me. They will ask me this? How will I answer?”
    I was so afraid of being called out a fraud, which I was sure I was.
    The best, and only answer that stuck for me came from a catholic priest who was a psychotherapist, who told me, I counsel couples about their intimate life and I have never been married or been intimate and I apparently am really good at it.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I do believe that writing what you know means never presuming… but to have an investment of experience somewhere in some way. But I cannot believe it is meant to restrict the imagination. So if one wants to write of France, then one should go to France…it’s the only way to write what one knows! But if one wants to write of murder…perhaps imagination is far better than writing what one knows…

    Liked by 1 person

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