Perhaps one of the biggest fallacies of the writing world is “Write What You Know.” It might be that I’m a blasphemer to all that is good and holy about the writing industry, but this single adage does so much more damage to creative endeavors of individual writers than any other. If we look at the statement itself, and pick it apart, I can more easily demonstrate what I’m talking about. It’s the word “know” that gives me the most concern. “Know” is part of the word “knowledge.” We won’t get into the “sexual intercourse” origins of the word , but look at it from a more modern viewpoint. Knowledge is something that you know, either through education, experience, or an innate intuitive sense that you might possess. It connotes thought, thinking, and the brain. However, when we intellectualize a creative process, like writing, we are not doing ourselves or our projects any justice at all. It’s a classic case of getting in our own way.
“Write what you know” implies that we should ONLY write about subjects or characters that we are personally and directly familiar with. Oh, pshaw!
The creative process is based in many parts of our biology, not just the brain. We utilize our senses, our emotions, our reasoning…pretty much everything. Therefore, stating “write what you know” is robbing us of the full experience. Perhaps a better statement might be “Write what you ARE.” When we move the process from the head and into the body, we immerse ourselves — and allow our audience to become immersed as well — into the process of creation. We draw on remembered experiences that involve taste, touch, smell, feel, and hearing, in addition to imbuing our work with a certain je ne sais quoi that cannot be taught. A certain reality television show might call it “factor x,” that variable that we all embody, but which we aren’t always able to access readily without the right internal and external environments.
Writers guard against putting worn out cliches into their work. So why would we try to build our career on worn out cliches?