"Write What You Know" v. Writing to Know


Write what you know, is a writing aphorism that is hard to escape, but what does it really mean? It’s always made me uncomfortable because far too often it is taken literally, but if you don’t take it literally then it becomes a bit of a puzzler. Once you move away from technical manuals and autobiography, what we know doesn’t amount to much. I mean how does this advice help the novelist writing a space opera, a short story writer writing surreal animal stories, a poet?

Writing what you know isn’t about limiting yourself to a narrow area of expertise or a specific collection of experiences. Maybe it would be better so say “Write what you know in your heart,” or maybe simply, “know your heart.” Be present in the moment; build rich memories, live a vivid imaginative life as well. It’s your memories, your imagination, what you feel and what you believe that are your cache of “what you know,” and they provide infinite possibilities for discovering truth in the world.

I highly recommend this one
“The key is to move steadily from what you know, be it ever so little.”
– Stephen Koch

The truth of the story isn’t always apparent right away. Writing is an act of discovery. Begin by creating a world – a small one in a kitchen or suburban home, or a vast one spanning galaxies; populate it with some characters, and set them in motion around a small collection of things you know. Be brave and honest and go where the story takes you. Who knows what you’ll discover.

“I write to find out what I didn’t know I knew.”
– Robert Frost

My story, “Fairview 619,” is available to read over at the Metaphysical Circus Press. If you like that, consider picking up the entire issue, See the Elephant Magazine, issue two: Love & War in the Slipstream.

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