The Worst Advice For Growth As A Writer
Why “writing what you know” is stifling your growth as a writer. Here’s a better way to see true growth and find your writing voice.
One of the most common bits of advice I’ve seen for people trying to learn and grow as a writer, well aside from “write every day”, is that you should write what you know. But if you’re looking to learn and grow as a writer, this is actually incredibly bad advice.
What does it mean to “write what you know”?
For most of us we think about those things we feel we have some level of expertise with already. Maybe we are competent photographers, so writing articles about different aspects of your approach to photography is writing what you know. Or, maybe you have spent a lifetime baking with your Mom and so writing articles about your favorite recipes and moments in the kitchen would be writing what you know.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting those scenarios are bad or will result in a bad article, book, story, or blog post.
There are plenty of fantastic reasons why you SHOULD write those articles, drawing from your intimate knowledge and experience. Sharing your view of something you are passionate about results in content that is extremely engaging for like minded readers.
And yes, we ALL want more of that.
But if you want to grow as a writer, spending time writing what you know will leave you spinning your wheels. Either slowing your potential growth or outright stifling it.
When you write only what you know, you get stuck in your comfort zone.
What does it take to grow and expand our knowledge, not only as a writer, but in anything we do?
Can we keep doing the same things over and over and actually push ourselves to learn anything new?
The simple answer is… no.
Sure, we can probably learn a bit here and there as we write what we know and continue to find our voice in that moment. But that voice is but a whisper if you don’t feed it and give it a chance to grow.
While we may feel like we have full command of our voice as we crank out yet another heartfelt article about the virtues of using cast iron to bake sweet rolls, we are missing out on the full vocal spectrum that we don’t even realize is there for us to grow into.
It’s being a big fish in a small pond.
We are totally comfortable with the subject matter. Comfortable with our knowledge around it and equally uncomfortable with wanting to write anything outside our little bubble.
Well that’s the kicker isn’t it?
Because we are all afraid to write about something we don’t know much(or anything) about. We fear looking like we lack knowledge.
I get it. Truly I do.
No one likes to look dumb. None of us want to put ourselves out there to be judged by the world when we hit publish if we don’t feel COMFORTABLE and CONFIDENT that we know what we are talking about.
“The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure.
If you always do what is easy and choose the path of least resistance, you never step outside your comfort zone. Great things don’t come from comfort zones.”
― Roy T. Bennett, The Light in the Heart
To grow as a writer, and as a person, we need to constantly work to expand our comfort zone.
If your goal as a writer is growth, then finding a way to step away from writing what you know is essential. That growth only happens by pushing ourselves to constantly learn new things on our journey.
And we’ll never get there by staying safe and cozy in our little pond where we feel like we are experts already.
The thing is, we often forget that when writing what we know, we are drawing on a lifetime of experience that we didn’t have when we first began that journey.
None of us picked up a camera, a spatula, or a pen, and were struck with a lightning bolt of all our current knowledge at once. It took time for us to explore, research, practice, and learn all that we know now.
Unfortunately, we as humans, tend to reach a point where we have enough knowledge that others view us as having some level of expertise and once we get there we stop pushing. Worse, we sometimes fall into the trap of feeling like we’ve reached the end of what there is to learn.
But that’s when, if we just push ourselves to step out of our comfort zone, we’ll find we are only just beginning to learn. We’ve reached the shores of our pond, but with a little effort there’s a bigger lake just a few feet away that is FULL of new knowledge that we didn’t realize we didn’t know.
To experience true growth as a writer we can’t stay comfortable in our pond, writing only what we know. I’m absolutely NOT advocating that we all start writing about subjects we’ve never heard of before and trying to pass off our writing as if we are experts on it.
Don’t be one of those people that just schmoozes their way through every topic, even when they have NO CLUE what they are talking about.
I AM advocating that you take time step outside of your comfort zone. Research, study, learn new things about something that isn’t just “writing what you know”. And then, once you’ve done some research and learning, get busy writing!
None of us wants to face that judgment, being viewed as an idiot because we don’t know what we are talking about, so we’ll put in the effort to MAKE ourselves knowledgeable about the topic first.
And that effort to learn something new, to research a topic so we can write with some level of comfort that we DO actually know about it, THAT is when the magic happens.
By pushing ourselves in that manner we expand our comfort zone with new knowledge. As our comfort zone expands we continue to find our true voice, unlocking the full spectrum we had been missing out on. And as the years, and knowledge stack up with time, we experience true growth as writers and as people.
When that happens, writing what we know becomes a much more productive tool in our toolbox. A tool we can use to make our writing voice sing. But writing what you know won’t bring you growth in itself.
To truly grow as a writer, as a person, you need to step away from just writing what you know and embrace the unknown.