Is ‘Write What You Know’ Blocking You From Your Writing Goals?

I think it’s a disservice when phrases make the rounds without proper context.

I experienced this when I was aggressively pursuing my fitness goals.  I’m pretty methodical, and don’t deviate from what I know works: lift weights, sprint, eat real food (but not too much).  But, I have friends on fitness forums/blogs confused by every “new” thing they hear on well-meaning news outlets and reality shows.  Things like:

“Good carbs, bad carbs”

“Say NO to Cardio”

“Calories in, Calories out”

Within the fitness community, these phrases have context and when used and understood correctly, can help you achieve your physical fitness goals.  Otherwise, these phrases can seem vague, meaningless, or contradictory and ultimately, can frustrate someone who really wants to achieve lasting physical changes.

Write What You Know.

I know most writers treat the phrase “Write what you know” cautiously, and have learned to deal with it in their own way, whether through modifying it, defining it, or defying it.  I know writers who have defined the phrase broadly, such as researching more or tapping in to another person’s experience.  I know others who have defied it by saying simply, “Just Write”.  I kinda did all three when I chose to rephrase it as: “Write what you can dream.”

The crux of the statement that may hinder anyone outside of the writing community from taking that leap of faith into the writing world is that pesky “know”.  But once you can overcome the limits you place on your definition of the word “know”, you will begin to feel a sense of freedom.  Almost like you’ve given yourself permission to write as freely as you want to.  I know I felt that way.  I have often thought, “well, what’s the point in writing about that because I don’t know everything there is to know about it?”  Once I changed my hangup around the word “know” and started believing in “write what I can dream,” my motivation and drive to accomplish my writing goal increased exponentially.

I will be talking more about inspiration sometime soon, but when it comes to “finding inspiration” (or what I call, filling up my dream well), I think Stephen King said it best: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”  The more stories you consume the more fodder your subconscious has to work with.  Snippets of your everyday will form great landscapes and endless worlds.  All you have to do is feed your muses.  Keep them entertained and eventually, they will deign to give you a few golden threads you can follow as you navigate your writing path.

SO TELL ME: What are some writerly phrases that you think send mixed signals outside of a writing community?  Are there phrases that you have redefined along your writing journey that inspires you better? Thank you for commenting


28 thoughts on “Is ‘Write What You Know’ Blocking You From Your Writing Goals?

  1. e6n1 says:

    I believe that this is the most misunderstood writing-advice.
    It’s meant to be taken as translating your own experiences (as far as possible) into your writing. For example, if one of your characters is a paraplegic you may not know what it feels like to be physically handicapped, but you can recall the feeling of being incapacitated or bedridden while you broke a limb, and use that experience towards your writing.

  2. Susan Fields says:

    Whenever someone asks a question like that, of course I can’t think of an example, even though I know there are many to choose from.

    I think that’s why I like to write fantasy. Yes, you definitely still have to do your research, but it’s fun making up the “what you know” to be anything you want it to be.

  3. Angela Scott says:

    If everyone wrote what they knew, then we’d have no scifi or fantasty. Forget Star Wars or Harry Potter or Hunger Games.

    I heard a quote and love it (goes along with write what you can dream): Write what you can imagine and then go to work.

    • Liza Kane says:

      I like that quote a lot! Thank you for sharing, and yes, please more sci fi and fantasy! We need more Star Wars and Harry Potters and Hunger Games (stories that I love very much, btw–extra cool points for you!) 😉

  4. Melissa says:

    Would it be brash of me to say “write what you know” is vastly misconstrued?

    I think you safely brought it back to point with “write what you can dream”. I swear that was the original intention.

    • Liza Kane says:

      You can say whatever you want, my dear!
      And, thanks for saying so…I didn’t want anyone else to have the excuse of not writing simply because they didn’t know too much about something 😉

  5. Gina Blechman says:

    I’ve changed “write what you know” to “write what you know you feel.” Write what you feel like. Write what you can emotionally relate to. Write with emotional experiences that you know. You may not have first hand experience with what your character is technically going through or his or her occupation or place in life or whatever, but if you can relate an emotional connection with your character, then that’s all that matters. 🙂

    ❤ Gina Blechman (fellow crusader)

    • Liza Kane says:

      So true Gina! I think that’s why music plays a big role in my writing: it helps to influence my emotions so I can tap into what my character would feel.
      Thank you for sharing! I look forward to following your blog as well 🙂

  6. adrianakraft says:

    Hello fellow cusader, have dropped your url into google, we’re set to go (I’m on wordpress too). Actually what caught my eye about your blog was the devotion to fitness, a huge issue for both my husband and me. Balance and commitment would be my catch-phrases there, and I guess those work for writing, as well. Glad to connect!


    • Liza Kane says:

      I tend to think of my different roles more organically: they stem from my very practical need to learn more, improve, achieve, whatever, and so I don’t think of writing and fitness as competing journeys but a mutual relationship that benefits each other as I set out on my life goals.
      Thank you for stopping by, and I look forward to following your blog!

  7. dawnall says:

    This is one of my favorites also. If everyone held to the letter on this one, we’d all be bored. I write so many times out of what I don’t understand and I seek to understand it better. Great post!

    • Liza Kane says:

      I like what you said: “I write so many times out of what I don’t understand and I seek to understand it better.” Writing about a subject helps me “make sense” out of the jumbled questions bouncing around in my head; which is probably why I like to blog, too!

  8. Tanya Reimer says:

    Hi Liza. I enjoyed your post. Welcome to the crusade, I signed up for your feed.
    So what words of wisdom do I follow when I write???
    -Everything I know, someone had to teach me. (My own littl slogan I use while I research and feel like I’m in over my head.)
    -“Because I wrote them that way.” Stephanie Meyers reminds me that it’s my world, hell what you all think.
    -I had to write crap before I wrote something worthwhile. (What I tell people when they ask why I’m still not published.)

    • Liza Kane says:

      Hi Tanya,
      Great words of wisdom! This one: “I had to write crap before I wrote something worthwhile.” reminds me of something Margaret Atwood said recently: “not viewing it as a “job” but as a calling/craft. So all writing was practice, whether or not it had immediate results.” (I asked her how she handled writer’s block/discouragement while writing.)
      We just need to keep writing and the work will pay off in the end!
      Thank you for stopping by!

    • Liza Kane says:

      Hi Raquel, thanks for stopping by!
      WordPress blogs don’t have “follow” buttons, but you can subscribe via email, RSS (links for both in sidebar) or just add the URL to google reader so that it’s part of your blogger subscriptions as well. (WordPress has a similar feature for non-WordPress blogs.)
      In your google reader settings you can even add a subscribe tool to your web browser (it does it automatically) and with a click the blog gets grouped in with your other subscriptions (the type of blog doesn’t matter).
      Hope this helps!

  9. onceupona says:

    Hi Liza! Came over from the Rachael’s to say hello! You’ll see that I am logged in as Onceupona but I am Danette on the list and you’ll find me as I don’t know how that all shakes out in the following thing but I am following you from here so that you have more real subscriptions!

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