Practical Writing Advice: Write HOW you know about what you DON’T know

Write what you know, write what you know, write what you know.

Egads, the worst writing advice ever. This is exactly why I could never make through a PhD program—by the time I’d finished all the research I’d answered my question and the process of all that writing after I had the answer was unbearable.

Writing is part of thinking, not just a way to record thoughts. We think in language, and the process of connecting new words also makes new connections between ideas. So for gods’ sake please don’t write what you know. Write towards something you want to know. Write what you wish you knew. Write what no one has ever known. And if we do that by writing HOW we know, in our own voices from our own experiences and thoughts, we’ll create something new and interesting. Really. Really truly. With sugar or diabetic-friendly sugar substitute on top.

Or, in the words of the Reginald Gibbons in his essay “Poetry and Self-Making:”

Take the hoary advice “Write about what you know.” It only trivializes a deep truth about all artistic expression, which is this: although any subject totally foreign to the writer isn’t part of his or her daily struggle to be and therefore isn’t likely to be a rich ground on which to play out the struggle to write, nonetheless no voyage into the known is worth making if there is not some unknown toward which we are sailing.


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