Write what you know, or know what you write?

There’s one piece of advice that has been passed around for so long I feel like anyone who’s sneezed in the direction of wanting to write has heard it:

‘Write what you know.’

It’s good advice, on the surface.

I’m going to go out on a branch here and guess that Diana Gabaldon has never time traveled. But I bet she researched the fuck out of Scotland and the American Revolutionary War. Dean Koontz has probably never been ‘raptured’. And I bet the number of historical authors who were alive during the time frame they write about is astronomically low. You see where I’m going with this.

Maybe the better advice is ‘know what you write.’ A reminder to do your research, rather than an arbitrary limitation based on factors we don’t always have a lot of control over. Rather than hit publish on your unresearched umpteenth draft, do your due diligence.

Many (most?) of us have a collection of books dedicated to craft and creativity, to the pursuit of literary perfection – from a technical standpoint. We have well loved thesauruses (thesauri?) we cart with us because sometimes the online version just isn’t the same. We’ve read blog after blog after blog on the lay/lie/laid/lain/lays dilemma.

But do we know the proper uniform color for Cospaia when they declared their independence in 1440? I didn’t know Cospaia was a place until I trolled Wikipedia looking for an example for that sentence.

Maybe this is the point of ‘know what you write.’ If you’re writing a novel that takes place in Europe in the mid-1400s, Cospaia is important. Knowing what you write is important.



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