Write what you know. Or don’t.

Why do you have to choose?

You’ve heard this before: “write what you know.”

What an old-fashioned bit of advice. So staid. So traditional. So…right?

It’s so much easier to write what you know. Because…well, you already know it. You can take some real life experience and write an essay about it. Or take a fun night out and create a made-up story around it. Or witness something near you or write about a happy event or tragic event and let it grow into something else. Familiarity makes it easier.

I think the “write what you know” advice is a little maligned because it’s taken out of context. “Writing what you know” is often the first step to writing anything. So it’s great for getting a story or novel started.

Sometimes as a writer I get this nutty notion in my head that I must make something grand that someone has never thought of before. That’s hard and challenging. Some days I’m up for it, some days I’m not.

BUT…It’s important to be challenged like that. To write what I don’t know. To dig into a new topic or discussion. To stretch a bit. To be a little nervous. To maybe make up a fantasy world and populate those characters.

However, writing what I don’t know can be a lonely and long haul, especially when the research becomes complex and things get bogged down. It can also be profitable, when you start writing about stuff that other people don’t know about and don’t want to spend the time to find out — that’s what a journalist or a technical write does. They’re writing about what they don’t know, but what people do want to know and people pay them to do it.

Only writing you know can be too easy, and depending on your experience, a lot like other manuscripts (HELLO PRIVATE COLLEGE UPPER MIDDLE CLASS MFAers).

Is there another way? A third path? How about…do both. Write what you know and write you don’t know. No need to pick one or the other (why do we always have to choose???). So yeah, write about what’s happening on your street and write a freelance project to help someone’s business. No one says you have to choose one or the other. And if you’re having fun, it doesn’t have to be perfect and publishable.

Forget whatever rule is in your head and write.

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I’m Josh Spilker and I blog about writing and books. Get my free guide, How To Fail As A Writer.