Write What You Know?

Most people interested in writing have heard the old adage, “Write what you know.” Supposedly, that’s a key trick to writing great fiction.


How do you write what you know, though, if your story’s set on a distant planet or at some medieval castle in a fantasy realm? I have a feeling HP Lovecraft never met a real life eldritch abomination. It seems unlikely that Le Guin was ever a wizard. But somehow great writers of sci-fi & fantasy craft characters and worlds so real that we fall right into them and believe them utterly.


Does that mean the old adage is wrong? Does writing what you know not get you anywhere?


How do you write what you don’t know anyway? What I know on the surface would appear to be how to be a father and work a 9-to-5 editing job. But the surface is rarely the whole. Dig beneath that and I have a whole world full of dramas and dreams playing themselves out while my waking mind deals with what it perceives as reality. Couldn’t it be argued that if I’m writing it, some part of me knows it?


I’d prefer the adage be kept more in line with what Polonius said, “To thine own self be true.” It’s not about conveying what you know but showing who you are and how you see reality that really imbues a story with life.

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