Write What You Know

Personally, I’ve never been very comfortable with the exhortation to writers to “write what you know”. After thirteen years of public school, four years of University, and nine years of hard knocks with short-lived jobs, crooked bosses, and rotten levels of stress, I still don’t think I really know much at all.

For that matter, I suspect that really, there isn’t much a person can know. We really aren’t here on Earth to go around knowing things. How boring would that be? Ignorance is not only bliss, it keeps you going to the Library, going to work, having kids (nobody would have them if they KNEW what a hassle it would be,) and generally trying to figure it out as they go along.

If I were to write everything I know in one place, it would be one of those little thumb-sized books you find up near the counter in chapters, about twenty pages long, with only one sentence on each page. And most of those would all be working to one idea, because I explain things overmuch.

So what do we do with this famous invocation: “write what you know”?

I suppose it really is expected to mean “Write what you’ve experienced.” Another really ghastly idea! I mean, most witers today have experienced a long education, a series of shitty survival jobs, lots and lots of rejection, and a constant barrage of crooks, long nights, angxiety, and self-doubt. That’s not quality writing… that is Reality TV… or Twilight…

Really, you can’t do anything with “Write wat You know.” I decided to toss that old saw in the scrap metal pile. Instead I write what I see. I figure that this is part of that elusive “Voice” nonsense many writers write about: you see the world through a certain set of eyes, you have perspectives no one else does.

For me, that involved writing as a Pagan, but not about Paganism. It also meant writing a lot about the uselessness of philosophy degrees, the irritation of visiting hospitals, how frightening politics are, and how really amazing Kangaroos seem to be. Most importantly, it meant writing a lot of comedy, because from where I am sitting the world can seem awfully silly.

…Especially with all of these people trying to “know” things.


~ by Brian Rideout on 01/02/2010.

5 Responses to “Write What You Know”

  1. in general, i can appreciate the spirit underlying your post. however, your paralyzing cynicism prevents me from following your work further.

    • I’m sorry this one turned you off so badly. I was hoping for “mild self-deprecation” rather than “paralysing cynicism.” I guess I need to work on my tone.

      • No, I don’t think you need to work on your tone at all. I quite enjoyed the piece, as I do all your work. Can’t please everyone. I sincerely hope you will not change your style just because of the comment of one person. It will be her loss to not read future articles.

  2. Enjoyed this , Brian. Harry suggests you send this piece to a literary magazine. Cathy & Harry

  3. Excellent advice. Maybe that’s why I’m so blocked lately. ‘Cause I don’t know much? (Don’t answer that.)

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