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On the Backlash Against the Writing Advice: “Write What You Know” :D

November 05, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Craft, Thoughts on Writing

So many writers. So many developing writers. So much advice…. >__<

I hope I can be forgiven for joining the fray. This isn’t so much advice but just some thoughts that’ve been percolating the past few months.

For a long while, “Write What You Know” had/has been a refrain that made its rounds among certain writing circles. It rang with a kind of truth that spoke to many of us in different ways.

Lately I’ve been seeing comments in my twitter feed, links to articles, which suggest that the idea,”write what you know,” is a creatively limiting space. Uninteresting, perhaps. Unimaginative. A narrow platform from which to develop story.

First of all let me state that all writing advice should never be taken as an absolute truth (Yikes! I think my head will explode, now….). I’m certain most writers have a healthy measure of skepticism that will serve them well. But sometimes we long for a magic formula that will see us fulfilling our dream or reaching our goal. There is no magic formula– only the persistent development of craft, the daily of labour of writing, and the moments of brilliant creative connection that can solar flare inside your mind.

There’s a lot of writing advice out there and some of it may be useful for your practice/development, and some of it may not be of any use whatsoever. Writers in the early stages of developing their voice, skills, discipline may hear a particular kind of advice at a sensitive time and find that they are affected in a negative way. This is what I’m worried about with the current trending of dismissing the advice, “Write what you know.”

The uneasiness I had felt toward this trend became clear to me when I read a marvellous interview with Sherman Alexie in The Atlantic. In the interview Alexie speaks about reading a line of poetry by Adrian C. Louis, a Paiute Indian, that changed his life. That it was a moment when Alexie realized that he could write about himself, his emotional life, and not emulate the writing of white men. That moment of recognition– of being able to see yourself when you have lived your entire life only seeing the faces and words of a people not your own– that is a moment of power, freedom and elation. For many people, writing what we know is the first step toward reclaiming our voices, our cultures, our gender, our bodies. Writing what we know can be a shout of resistance against systemic oppression. Writing what we know can save someone’s life.

Writing only what we know may not serve a writer well as she travels the long path of learning and growing. For in learning and growing we need to tread into places we do not yet know.

But I will speak out against the outright dismissal of writing what we know. Your subjectivity, your history and your embodied experiences matter. From this site a marvellous story can grow. Believe.

3 Comments to “On the Backlash Against the Writing Advice: “Write What You Know” :D”


  1. I think “write what you know” can be considered on two levels: factual and emotional. I agree there’s no need to restrict ourselves to regurgitating events and settings from our own experience – I’m a lazy researcher but it’s so easy with the internet – but I do think the writing is more successful if we’re exploring emotional states with which we are familiar. It can be excruciating to read an account of, say, bereavement from someone who hasn’t had that all-too-common experience.

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  2. Dear Hiromi Goto! Thank you! I think this blogpost of yours just saved my life (and my novel)! With LOVE from me in Sweden

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  3. ~___~ Blessings.

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