write who you don’t know

I’ve written about the whole “write what you know” idea before (here and here, and maybe other places, too), but Kristan Hoffman has found some very wise words on the subject from Toni Morrison.

I think it’s very important to write outside ourselves. You can write well the other way (Hemingway did most of his writing — some of it great — about himself), but a lot of writers pay much too much attention to the “write what you know” rule and don’t explore other paths.

I think I’ve been doing this, in my usual disorganized way. As I mentioned in my comment on Kristan’s blog, I’ve spent 40+ years writing about two women — an internationally famous reporter and amateur detective, and a lunatic mass murderer — and I’m pretty definitely none of those things.

And I can safely say that, in six decades on this planet, there hasn’t been even a single day when I’ve wanted children. But when the abovementioned detective and her assistant unexpectedly adopted a daughter, I was fascinated to put myself in their position and figure out what would happen next.

And then there’s the Golden, who have appeared in three of my stories so far. I’ve definitely never known anybody like them. Maybe that’s why I keep writing about them.

What’s the point of being a writer if you don’t see how far your imagination can go?

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4 Responses to write who you don’t know

  1. Maggie says:

    This is good advice. I write about people I do and don’t know and put them in situations that I have and haven’t been in before… whatever suits the story. I’ve never had a kid, but I’ve written myself into parents’ shoes. I’ve never been to Russia, but I have managed to write about it (don’t know how successfully).

  2. My earliest reading was superhero comic books, science fiction, and murder mysteries, so I guess “write what you don’t know” kind of came with the territory. 🙂

  3. SB Roberts says:

    It’s so true. Writing what we know can be great, but exploring the unknown is even better. It stretches the imagination and lets us experience things we would never otherwise experience. 🙂

    • I think this is one reason I’m drawn to audio drama rather than TV. There are no budget constraints — you can go anywhere and “show” anything. Movies are (can be) amazing, but there’s always the limits of the money. In audio, or on the printed page, there are no limits.

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