We've all heard it: 'Write what you know'. It's a cliche as old as time. I'm sure the first guy who put a shipping manifest onto a cunaeform tablet heard 'It's good, but what do you know about amphorae of olives'? Write long enough as good enough and someone somewhere will offer a critique telling you to stick to what you're familiar with.


   It's not that being told your story lacks authentic detail is wrong; that kind of critique is always valid. But see, that just means you need to study the subject a little better (usually by reading other authors or non-fiction). That's an easy fix. 'Write what you know' is a nefarious lie. It's anti-writing and I want to see it dead. If we followed it to the logical conclusion there would be no fiction at all. Ray Bradbury never stepped on Mars. Ken Kesey never worked in a pysch ward nor was he ever a guest of one. It stifles creativity and prevents you from taking risks. Writing is all about taking those risks, about stepping off into a world that is new to you and not yet fully formed. It's in those realms that your writing can really surprise you. A character may take on a depth and agency you weren't expecting. Your horror writing can be laced with a real fear and apprehension because you honestly don't know what is around the corner. Your sci-fi can be full of alliterative sentences rich with wonderment for a world that you, as a writer, are seeing for the first time. That all comes through to the reader and it imbues a certain joie-de-vivre and breath of life into your work. None of this can happen if you  just 'write what you know'.

   Does this excuse research? No. When I went to write Mother of Pearl, I knew I had no practical knowledge of the day-to-day workings of police officers. So I signed up and did several ride-alongs. That was valuable research that added a richness and detail to my world. But I'd never been a cop nor had I ever investigated a crime in my life. Nonetheless the end product was good enough to land an agent. 

So let's do away with 'Write What You Know'. It's an old hoary cliche. Worst of all, it's untrue. Instead write what inspires you. Now that's a mantra I can get behind.