The Worst Advice

Inspired by recent discussions elsewhere, I have been thinking a lot this week about the worst advice given to new and aspiring writers.

Top of the list for me is ‘WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.’

Come on, we’ve all been told this at some stage, right? Usually by well meaning English teachers and other people who don’t really know what they are talking about.

Harsh? Not really.

For instance, do you think that Kim Stanley Robinson REALLY knows what it’s like  to stand on another planet? Or to fly a spaceship? No? Neither do I. He made it up.

What about Bernard Cornwell? Think he REALLY knows what it’s like to serve in the Napoleonic wars?

Or Anne Rice? How many rockstar vampires do you reckon she knows?

And, from what I can ascertain via my Google-fu JK Rowling never went to a magical boarding school in Scotland.

What do all these writes have in common?


Not all of it, obviously. But most of it.

Here’s the thing, most new writers I know hear the words ‘Write what you know’ and think that they should ONLY write what they know. And so they loose out on on so much.

There is something to be said for the ease with which modern technology allows us to research, and I feel that the possibilities for a writer are endless. At our fingertips we have the means to find out anything that we don’t already know.

Writing only what we know limits us as a writer, and would mean that whole genres wouldn’t exist.

And really, for most of us ‘what we know’ would be terribly dull. It’s the other things that are interesting. The bits of our minds that seek something new and exciting, that make up tales about monsters and faeries and spaceships and submarines.

So, while the worst bit of advice for the new writer is ‘Write what you know’

The best bit must surely be ‘Don’t just write what you know.’



1 Comment

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One response to “The Worst Advice

  1. When I was a kid, when we did those exercises in writing stories they called it ‘creative writing’. Writing only what you know is hardly ‘creative’.

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