Write What You Know. Or Don’t

By Bhalachandra Sahaj

Hi everyone!

writing mottoWhen you write fiction, you have a difficult choice to make. At one point, you want to write something exciting, or feel like you need to be specific about certain details. On the other hand, sometimes you suddenly feel you lack knowledge in what you are writing about! Let’s imagine you are working on a detective story; at some point, you want to insert an interrogation scene, or an autopsy, or a crime scene investigation. Now, describe it in a credible way. Not just, “The detective took a professional glance at a bullet shell and saw a fingerprint on it,” but a detailed and specific description of a routine criminalistic procedure, saturated with details that would make your writing convincing.

Can you?

And now imagine writing science fiction, talking about gravity, general relativity, and anti-matter. Most likely, you lack knowledge and understanding. In cases like these, you have several options. Abstain from writing about what you are ignorant in or try to write through, so to say, to describe a scene or phenomenon the way you see and understand it (not the best choice, unless your literary skill overweighs lacunas in your knowledge). The last option (and the best, in my opinion) is to conduct thorough research and write anyways.

In other words, I strongly disagree with the rule “Write what you know.”

The Internet provides you with limitless abilities to research. Libraries, public lectures and seminars, specialized websites, periodicals, interviewing competent people—these are just some of the ways to obtain information you lack to write credibly. You might not become a scientist or criminal investigator (or whoever else) this way, but still, using small and specific details will greatly contribute to your writing.

Your new story takes place in a remote village in New Zealand, and you’ve never been there? Use Google Earth maps and photos, Wikipedia, and local websites for recon. Writing about war but have no idea how it feels to be on the battlefield? Come on, bookstores are full of memoirs written by veterans—you can check some of them out for technical descriptions or specific terminology. Planning to send your characters into distant space on a quest to find extraterrestrial life? Stephen Hawking and websites on xenobiology will help you.

Writing only what you know about is boring. Use all the possibilities for learning that modernity grants you with, and your writing will be diverse and credible.

Stay updated!

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