Write What You Know
Having read reams of online slush, I have labored through numerous manuscripts that give the lie to the principle of Write What You Know. IMHO, it leads to a lot of writing about mundane daily routines, what might be called the workplace novel, or perhaps, the house spouse novel, that could not be more atrocious as literary fiction. I cannot tell you how many novels I have glanced at that begin with waking up in the morning and getting breakfast together, or arriving at work and greeting ones’ office suite mates, or greeting one’s patients in a dentist’s office. It makes the authors sound like they don’t know what to write about, and who would want to read it? Yet hundreds of writers do it. They all sound pretty much the same, and their manuscripts will be round filed by end of paragraph one.
A much better idea is to write what you can imagine, using knowledge of matters that interest you to enliven and inform your fiction, and researching what you need to know to make it believable to others. Unless there is some particular drama occurring in the home or the workplace that is universally interesting and pertinent to the story line, I believe it is best to refrain from writing about the events of ones day. Follow the principle that every word you write should be germane to the theme, the story, or the character development and you will avoid this common mistake.
Correction: Know What You Write. Don’t Write What You Know.
Another principle that needs discarding is that art, in general, and writing in particular, is self-expression. I prefer to think of creativity as a process of self-abstraction. Looking at the etymology, what do these words tell us? To abstract is to draw away, implying a process of reaching within and drawing away certain selected gems, or so one would hope. To express oneself is to press out, and what is it that we tend to press out? I rest my case.
Correction: Abstract Yourself, Don’t Express Yourself.