Don’t Write What You Know

 It’s one of the biggest cliches you’ll hear related to writing fiction – write what you know.

STOP IT

Please. For the love of books. Please stop writing what you know. Nobody wants to read about your daily life sitting in a cubicle all day, or the trials and tribulations of being a stay-at-home parent, or whatever mundane thing you know about. Nobody cares. I’m sorry to be the one who breaks it to you, but writing what you know will not sell books. Look at Tom Clancy – he worked in the insurance industry. (Then again, some suspect he had insider ties to the CIA, and no one knows where he got his military information, so maybe he really was writing about what he knew…but I digress.)

Anyway, if authors only wrote about what they know, why are there so many vampire and werewolf books, so many science fiction novels, so many books about elves and dwarves and wizards? (We can argue whether or not these things really exist till we’re blue in the face, but for the purpose of this post, let’s assume they don’t.)

I’m here to shatter this cliche. I’m here to tell you to write whatever the heck you want. Alright?

I want you to let your imagination run wild. Don’t limit yourself by only brainstorming ideas about things you’re familiar with. Go crazy! Want to write about a mermaid living in the clouds? Do it! Are you a female suburban office worker, but want to write about a teenage boy in the middle ages? Do it!

Here’s a secret THEY don’t want you to know – you can write anything you want, whether you know it or not.

Now, I’m not saying you CAN’T write what you know. Just make it interesting. Office life is boring. But add a healthy dose of corporate intrigue, the threat of prison, and a bit of romance, you just might have a bestseller on your hands. (Have you read Paranoia by Joseph Finder? I never knew it was possible to make corporate life so interesting to read about.)

On the other hand, look at John Grisham. (If you’re still a fan, I apologize – this is only my opinion.) His first several books were really good. He took courtroom drama and made it fascinating! But then, he started writing the same story over and over again, with a different cast of characters. Writing what he knew only took him so far before it got stale.

So dare to write something totally foreign to you. Yes, you still need to make the story authentic and believable. But get the story out. You can make it real in revisions. The important thing is to let your imagination run wild. Don’t trap it in a cage called The Daily Grind.

Now go write that fantastical story about pixies on a spaceship you’ve been thinking about all these years!

Happy writing,
Jen

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