It’s true – this advice is up there with “Content is king” for me in terms of both importance and truth.
It’s important to understand what makes something good advice, and there’s a few compelling reasons that “write what you know” is valuable to writers of all experience levels.
Why does this make so much sense? There are many reasons, too many to list here, but I wanted to share two of the ones I found the most interesting and accessible.
1. Writing what you know reduces friction.
Sylvia Plath once wrote in her journal that “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Plath’s work makes a compelling case for “write what you know” as sound advice, after all, one of the things that makes her writing so compelling is that her experience is at the core of so much of her work.
For a long time, I thought that she was right about self doubt being public enemy number one when it came to creativity, but lately I’ve begun to believe that the real culprit is actually friction.
It’s well documented that human beings, like water, take the path of least resistance. This preference for the simplest solution, the easily accessible over the more challenging is a deep seated part of our information seeking strategies.
Writing outside of our sphere of personal experience is certainly possible, but it introduces new sources of friction – like the need to research, the uncertainty of self doubt and the need to verify facts and statements, just to name a few. Writing what you know requires less effort to connect the dots between the information you have and writing as a tool for sharing that information. Put simply, writing what you know is just easier.
2. Writing what you know reveals your personality
When we write what we know, we to reveal our thoughts, ambitions, ideas and personality through our writing in a way that’s unique to the subjects we understand through first hand experience. It’s also much easier to add the small touches that make a piece of writing engaging, like backstory, insight into the author’s thoughts and the lessons they’ve learned through living their subjects.
There is a time and a place for sterile, fact-driven content – encyclopedias, technical manuals and the like. Creative writing is best when it’s humanistic, compelling and relatable, and what is a lens if not a place to write creatively?
I think it’s very comforting and encouraging to know that the easiest way of writing is also the best way.