On writing what you know

Dismiss that woefully misguided maxim ‘Write What You Know.’ Instead, and I emphatically believe this, write what you don’t know. Write about what confuses, enrages, haunts and confounds you. The writer who has the answers is penning propaganda; the writer on a quest for them is the one I’d rather read.

Apparently this is from a speech by playwright Doug Wright, though I can’t find a source. Whether he said it or not, he’s absolutely correct.

From a good thread on r/writing about dodgy advice for writers.

(I also weighed in with my least favourite, but almost ubiquitous, writing advice too.)

  1. I also HATE this stupid and small-minded advice. If it were true, most literature never would have been written.

    Best writing advice I ever got: “Two things a writer needs to do: get an income, and write.”

    I’m going over to look at your least favourite advice.

  2. Yes!! I totally agree with you here, too. In fact, that very advice – “a writer must write every day” – helped prevent me from being more dedicated to my writing for years when I was younger. I heard this “write every day” advice everywhere. I couldn’t do it, and felt that this shortcoming somehow meant I couldn’t write. Blech!

    You’ve given me an idea for a blog post. 🙂

    • That’s exactly what I fear with this advice: that a writer will decide that he or she can’t be a writer because writing every day is not an option.

      The better form of this advice is stuff like “don’t wait for inspiration to strike” or “the more you write, the better, even if it’s not great”, stuff like that. This might become a(nother) blog post for me too. 🙂

  3. I think anyone who has the need to write will eventually get down to writing, despite the bad advice and all the other obstacles.

    Have you read Art & Fear? (Trying to remember if we’ve already talked about it… if I’m supposed to know the answer to my question… )

    • Oh, you’re absolutely right. But there’s no reason to add obstacles and frustration to the mix — it’s hard enough as it is to get writing.

      I don’t remember ever talking about it, and I don’t think I’ve ever come across Art & Fear…

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