“Write what you know” is my least favorite sentence in regards to writing. I write books about kids learning how to ride dragons. Do I know how to ride dragons? Do you? (Does anyone really?) If I only write what I know, 90% of my books would not exist.
For me, even when writing realistic fiction, I like to stray away from my own life. While I have many interests, I’m not really an exciting person. I’m cautious, I hate frequent travel/road trips, and I do watch a fair amount of Netflix while taking pictures of cats. For me, what I write makes me a more interesting person. I take on new characters and personalities to explore the world (real and fantasy) from the comfort of my own dining table. While I’m sure I could find something in my life worth writing about, I prefer topics far from what I know.
I can see why some people like “write what you know.” It’s familiar and safe, and it can be a good place to start. However, if you only stick to what you know it can limit your creative potential. I am writing a YA novel with a higher level of grief and loss than I’ve ever experienced. It’s a risk since I’ve never been in the situation I threw my main character into, but I’d rather write this book than about my high school experience playing clarinet in the school musical while studying for AP exams. (Oooh, over achieving in high school…fascinating…)
Instead of “write what you know” think “write what inspires you.” I promise, if you’re interested in a subject, someone else is too. Your friends may be interested in other genres, but there are more people in the world who do have similar interests. I met a person who wanted to write a super commercial romance novel in order to sell it and make money. This person did not read much romance or really like the genre, they just wanted something to make it big. There are a ton of red flags here. If you don’t love the idea or genre, it’s not going to be good. While there are no guarantees of anyone being the next Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or JK Rowling, it’s still important to love your own writing! If you are inspired to write a flash fiction piece, short story, poem, novel, etc. then do it. The more excited and passionate you are about the project the better it will be.
I’m a classical musician so I’ve been to many recitals and concerts. I’ve heard many amazing talented performances that are super technical, but the lack of musicality makes it harder for me to enjoy the performance. Writing is the same way. If you’re writing something because you can, not because you’re passionate about it, it’s clear in the writing. If “writing what you know” inspires you, then go for it. If you’re inspired to write something but afraid to write something because you don’t “know” it, write it anyway. Stretch yourself and see what you’re capable of.