“Write what you know,” is advice writers ogive each other. This is followed by writers arguing about that statement, and the Great Circle of Advice and Debate continues. I’d like to add my own nuance to the debate because it may help.
“Write what you know,” is an incomplete statement.
Serdar notes that many writers seem to create writing/artistic heroes – to the point that “writer/artist” is shorthand for protagonist to many. This issue arises from writers writing what they know – themselves. It’s a grand example of how “write what you know” backfires, and I’m sure we all have seen writers follow that advice a bit too much.
Yet many writers try to break out of what they know. We know – and perhaps are – researchers and obsessive readers who will go to great lengths to find what they need for a story. There’s the ever-repeating joke of how writers have questionable browsing history as they research so many things. Isn’t writing about “knowing more” to write?
Even if we’re not researching things that might disturb someone, aren’t we growing as a writer anyway? Aren’t we learning from our writing? Aren’t we changing with life? The “what we know” part of the advice is changing all the time.
This is where harder truths break into the unpleasant simplicity of “write what you know.” Yes, an author should write what they know, but the act of writing also means the author should be learning and growing all the time. That growth is part of writing as well, and perhaps needs more acknowledgment.
“Write what you know, but both you and your writing should grow together,” may be a better bit of advice. If we writers can grow, so can our catchphrases.