Writing

First Rule of Writing: Write What You Know (or WANT to know)

Chris Garrett wrote Blogging What You Know last week. I’m usually so overwhelmed with writing projects that I’m always too late to Comment and add my two cents. But I like what he had to say so I thought I’d give my take on the subject.

Rules are interesting little critters, aren’t they? I write quite often about rules, and about the breaking of rules, on Sling Words, my main blog.

Many years ago, the first so-called rule about writing that I learned was what all published writers and editors espouse: Write what you know.

I’m pretty sure all writers still hear this because I hear it when I pop into writers’ conferences. I even say it when I teach workshops and classes.

Write what you know. Why? Because it gives authenticity to your words. By the way, this rule applies whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, whether it’s a book project or a blog on the web.

Now, people who don’t write fiction think writing what you know doesn’t apply. After all, you’re just making it up. Right?

Wrong! In fiction, writing what you know means not only getting the facts straight on your information plot but also finding the underlying universal truth that is as real for an American as it is for an Italian or a Japanese. It’s the honesty and recognizable truth that makes fiction come to life. And it’s what will make an editor offer you a book publishing contract. One might even say that writing what you know – the emotions you feel when hurt, scared, angry, or happy – is even more important in fiction because without that truth, your fiction will never succeed.

Over the years, I’ve put my own spin on the “write what you know” rule. If you’ve read some of my writing how-to articles or taken a class or seen me giving a presentation at a conference, you’ve probably heard me say it this way: Write what you know OR WANT TO KNOW.

I truly think if you are interested enough in a subject to do the necessary research AND if you have the ability to articulately express ideas then you can write on a variety of subjects without necessarily being an expert.

I also know that if you want to learn something then teach it. Researching and writing about a subject is a form of self-education.

So don’t be intimidated by not being an expert on a particular subject if it interests you enough to learn about it. Without realizing it, you’ll become an expert. I know I have on any number of subjects that have fascinated me enough to land jobs writing about them.

Author: joanr

7 thoughts on “First Rule of Writing: Write What You Know (or WANT to know)

  1. At Precise Edit, we often give clients this exact advice. Readers can usually tell if the writer is writing about what he or she knows. If the reader is not convinced that the writer is doing this, regardless of the topic, the writer loses credibility–and the reader.

  2. > “fake it till you make it, baby. that’s the key to success…”

    Ryan the cynical guy

  3. That is so very true. I love writing about things I WANT to no, and it’s an invitations for others to go exploring with you.

  4. “… writing what you know means not only getting the facts straight on your information plot but also finding the underlying universal truth that is as real for an American as it is for an Italian or a Japanese. It’s the honesty and recognizable truth that makes fiction come to life.”

    And even more critical for poetry, which is a kind of fiction.

  5. Nice post. It’s all about passion. We can be passionate about things we know or things we really want to know about. Oftentimes it’s the passion the drives traffic and increases repeat visitors.

  6. Joan Reeves,
    Now I realize most of my posts fall under “write what you want to know” category. Well written post.

  7. fake it till you make it, baby. that’s the key to success…

    i’ve been faking it for 27 years…and finally i think i’ve made it. what a relief.

Comments are closed.