Don’t Write What You Know! Sheesh!

You know what I hate? Well, yeah, the Seattle Seahawks. You know what else I hate? Aspiring writers spewing cliches about writing. During a session with one of my Southern California writers’ groups a few years ago, an older woman shared a few chapters of a fictional piece set in Boston.

While I thought the east coast imagery was great, the chapters could definitely have used some improvement. So what was the first bit of criticism? A writer from Milwaukee sneered out this beauty: “I think, maybe, you should write what you know. I mean, if you live in California, don’t try to write about Boston.”

While the woman said nothing at the time, she later told me that she grew up in Boston. Mark Twain, it is accepted, said, “Write what you know.” Because I love Mark Twain, I would accept anything he said about writing. Not this time. Heck, he even said that if you’re not getting paid for writing within the first three years of undertaking that craft, maybe you were intended to saw wood for a living. By those standards, I should be spending all my spare time in public parks threatening non-threatening people for spare change.

Listen, Terry Pratchett made his millions by writing about a disc world that balanced on the backs of four giant elephants supported by an even more gigantic turtle. If he would have taken the over-offered write what you know, his endearing cadre of failed wizards, assassins, and sarcastic witches would have only taken place in Beaconsfield, UK. It is a market town, and civil parish. In Buckinghamshire. You won’t be finding the colour of magic there, unless you wobble down a back alley after a few too many brews in a pub.

Tom Clancy wrote about espionage, war, violence, and spies. He graduated from college with a degree in literature, and was president of the chess club. He did try to join the military, but was rejected due to poor eyesight.

You don’t have to restrict yourself with what you know. You can’t restrict yourself that way; it’s impossible. Don’t write what you know. Write what your imagination is capable of conceiving. If you write, your imagination is a barn full of horses kicking to get out the doors. What you know is what will help pepper your stories with some life experience. Your imagination will do the rest. Thank you for your time, and in honor of the cheating New England Patriots, I have this parting question: What did the drugged out patriot say? “Give me Librium or give me meth.”

Finally, I implore you to share this or like it or something similar.

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