Write What You Know

Today, I wanted to confront the most overused writerly idea and expression of all overused writerly ideas or expressions. That, as the title indicates, would be write what you know.

It’s the simple assignment many teachers give their charges when they’re first exposed to the joy of writing. “Tell me about your vacations,” they’ll say at the beginning of a school yeaer. “What did you do? Write it all down for me.”

That is writing what you know.

But to carry that idea into creative writing doesn’t always work. It can, but it doesn’t always. For example, there’s no way J.K. Rowling is personally acquainted with a boy wizard who plays quidditch. She made that all up. She didn’t know it before it became something, fashioned out of the building materials present only in her imagination, and set down in paper and ink to stand for all time.

Every novel is going to have autobiographical elements. Even Potter. Rowling has said Hermione Granger is a representation of her. Every writer will write what they know, to an extent. But a lesson all writers must learn is when to break away from the autobiography of it all and add in the right mix of fictional elements.