Writing Rule #1 – Truth or Myth?


I found this article very interesting and in conflict with what writer’s are usually advised, so I am re-posting it.  Thank you Elan Barnehama.

Rule #1:  Always Write what you know.   


“I wrote a novel whose two main characters are lesbians.  This confuses some people because I am not a lesbian.  Because I am also not a woman.  And because I am not gay.

When I set out to write my novel, Finding Bluefield, I did not expect my main character to be a woman, much less for that woman to fall in love with another woman. But there I was, a straight man hooked by these two characters, Nicky and Barbara, and their voices, and the story they wanted me to tell.  As I ventured into unfamiliar-for-me- situations, my characters, Nicky and Barbara, found themselves in 1960’s Virginia navigating unknown territory during a time when relationships like theirs were mostly hidden and often dangerous….    

…I’m not sure who started encouraging writers to “write about what you know”.  At first glance it seems to make sense. Why not write about what I know when I know so much?  When I’ve done so much?  When I’ve seen so much?  But the writing process disproves this theory because the story is always better served by the narrative that could happen, that should happen…

…I wrote about characters who are different from me by gender, race, background, and religion.  There’s that risk of getting everything wrong.  But isn’t that where the fun is?  Making things up?  Finding the truth in the unknown?  It’s not always easy or comfortable, but I’ve learned to trust my characters and I’ve learned that the story truth is found in writing into the unknown…

…Maybe the real distinction, and I imagine this is true for many fiction writers, is that all my writing is autobiographical—in that it comes from me—but it’s not biographical, because it’s not about me.

In the end, if readers are able to connect it’s going to be through the essence of my characters’ humanity and the truth behind who they are and where they are going.

The obvious question is how do I know what I don’t know?  The answer is that I don’t.  I just write into unfamiliar territory and see what happens because I know that’s where the answers lie.  Sometimes I get lost.  Sometimes I get sidetracked.  If I’m lucky I find my way.  But the journey, yes the journey, is always worth it.


5 thoughts on “Writing Rule #1 – Truth or Myth?

  1. I’ve always found ‘Write what you know’ to be contradictory advice for most novels anyway. I don’t know what it’s like to be a nun or a witch, so I can only guess and delve into the human psyche. All these popular books, even by first time authors–I highly doubt they know what it’s like to be a kid chosen to kill other kids, or to fight an evil wizard, or to be an assassin nun, or to be 22 and know you’re going to die because of an incurable disease. Fact is, most books we read we can’t even fathom, unless we’re reading contemporary.

    • I agree. It would be so hard to do – so you could know – every aspect of a novel. Fiction is imaginary not realistic. But often that is the advice you will receive if you take writing classes.

  2. I really had no attachment to any of the characters in this book. I felt Nicky being basically the main character should have brought more to the story. None of the characters showed any real emotions about the situations they were in. Such as, Barbara really didn’t seem all that angry that Nicky cheated on her with a man just to become pregnant. Which by the way, even if she thought of Barbara the entire time she slept with the guy, it’s still cheating.

  3. Pingback: Nugget of Truth | Writing = Passion

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