Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Write what you know?

So, the conventional wisdom has long been to “write what you know.” Recently I’ve seen a lot of seemingly embittered writers decrying this advice. “If we don’t get outside the realm of what we already know, how will we truly exercise our imaginations?” I, personally, think that the advice “write what you know” has evolved and changed since its inception.

It is perhaps even true that when those words were first spoken, the person giving the advice truly meant, “your experiences are valuable and interesting and I want to read about them.” In current times, though, I think the far more relevant interpretation of this advice is, “know what you write.” A generation ago, stereotypes and cultural appropriation and other forms of ignorant writing were acceptable. Now, if you’re going to have a Japanese-coded culture in your novel about dragons, you’d better know a lot more about Japanese culture than what you learned from Seven Samurai and anime.

In other words, there are things that aren’t yours to take and use. If you are going to incorporate these things into your writing, do so respectfully and knowledgeably.

If you don’t already know the thing you want to write about, learn about it. Don’t just assume you know all there is to know and go prancing off into the sunset, pen grasped in sweaty fingers and cheeks shining. We all have a responsibility in this fraught time to be sensitive and well-informed, and it’s no one’s responsibility to teach you things—you have to go out and self-educate.

I hope that it’s clear that I’m talking about writing that is meant to be read by people other than yourself. Write whatever you want if you’re keeping it on your own computer, of course.

Write on, word nerds!

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