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Write What You Know

            This is another term that’s thrown around and used like a bad cliché in writing. Most of us eventually figured out that we weren’t supposed to take it literally, but there are some writers new and old who still don’t know what this really means.

            I’m going to put it like this. If that were literally true, J.K. Rowling wouldn’t have written Harry Potter. Of course officially, fantasy doesn’t apply to this since fantasy is not real and anything goes with that.

            But write what you know pretty much means this, if you can gather enough information about it to write it convincingly so that you sound like you know what you’re talking about, you’re free to write it.  The age of the internet has really changed this saying because now writers can explore different cultures without leaving their home, given that they cross reference to make sure they’re getting accurate information. But there are some things that are just off limits depending on the writer.

            For instance, I won’t go into detail about anything mechanical if you paid me. Why? I don’t know anything about the technicalities of mechanics. Sure I can fix my laptop, wii, and I’m planning to fix my garbage disposer as soon as my dad goes out of town so he won’t stop me, but when it comes to engineering and anything along that nature, you’ve lost me.

            That means I have no business trying to write about a mechanic whose lifelong dream is to build his own brand of car and start a car company similar to Ford, Nissan, Honda etc. Not only don’t I know anything about cars, but I’m not that business savvy on a corporate level and since I’m pretty sure I would have to get into the details of that, I wouldn’t touch it. Nor would I write anything about the stock market (I hardly understood Wall Street), or anything about military life since that’s a whole other culture judging by the conversation I had with a classmate about his experience and what that life is like.

            Basically, if I have to go to school for it, apprentice under an actual pro, or get a feel of the experience in order to portray it accurately, I have no business writing it. Now the military thing is a bit different. Since I know some people who were formerly in the military, it’s as simple as asking for an interview, but even that might take a while.

            However, just because those are areas I or others may need to get personal experience in to write about, doesn’t mean you need personal experience in an area to write about it. Again, I couldn’t pull it off. That doesn’t mean another writer can’t if they can grasp the idea and understand the information, which brings me to my next point.

            I used to hear this saying all the time from people. “You’re too young to write. You don’t have enough experience to write a good story. You don’t know enough.” Tsh… I know fourteen year olds that can write because their skill makes up for lack of experience and knowing.

            Some things I don’t need the experience in. There’s enough information circulating on the internet about some topics that writers can write it convincingly without the experience. I’m twenty and never been married a day in my life, but I can spin a romance for married and unmarried couples pretty convincingly (tell that to the person who told me I couldn’t). And I certainly don’t need to become a prostitute or addicted to drugs to portray a character who is a prostitute or addicted to drugs properly.

          I know enough people, there have been enough documentaries, and I’ve read  enough pamphlets and articles that I can figure a lot of situations out, not to mention writers are pretty good at figuring out the psychology of people (meaning why people act the way they act in any given situation, which depends on a number of variables that I won’t get into) being that we have to make up and characters if we want to write stories.

            My point? Sometimes “write what you know” really does mean “write what you know,” but that doesn’t mean you’re limited to your mundane life of going to school, coming home, cooking dinner, writing your novel, and life in a small town after you’ve grown up in a big city (that would be mine). Anything that you can effectively grasp or learn about without having to experience it or go to school and practice for years (and that has exceptions) is “what you know,” and anything you lack in “knowing” experience-wise, a writer can make up for in skill.

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