Writing What You Know (…Or Not)

Write What You Know (Or Not)

One of the key pieces of writing advice I hear is ‘write what you know.’ While I do understand why this piece of advice is still told to every new writer, I disagree with the statement.

Writing what you know is a good idea because, obviously, you know what you know. You know what it’s like to be you, or more broadly, what it’s like for your friends and family, or more broadly still, what it’s like in more general circumstances such as school or work. Everyone can relate to general circumstances. Most can probably relate to something you’ve been through, or something your friends and family have been through. Or perhaps it’s the opposite in which you’re different from some or most people, such as being a different sexuality from the norm or doing an unusual job.

However, writing what you know can be limiting for two reasons.

1. It keeps you in a limiting bubble.

Writing what you know will keep you in your own footsteps or in your social bubble, surrounded by people you’ve accepted into your bubble. Even classmates or colleagues might not make their way into the bubble because while you acknowledge their existence, you might not acknowledge their story. You might view them as ‘that annoying person you have to deal with on a regular occurrence’ instead of ‘that annoying person who has a life like me and I should at least acknowledge they have thoughts and feelings too’.

I’m not saying become best friends with every single person you meet, but just stop and think (if you can) about what they might be going through before judging them. Granted, I know there are circumstances where you can judge a person because you only see them for a fleeting time period (i.e. when someone barges past you on the street), but when you have a longer time period, try to see them beyond your judgments and for who they are. It’ll take practice, but it’ll be worth it if you can.

Additionally, stepping into someone else’s footsteps doesn’t have to be in your immediate surroundings. You can use personal accounts or documentaries or books as a source or reference and build on it from there. You can choose a country or culture or society and do your research into what their life is like, or consume media they’ve created.

2. You can’t possibly know what it’s like to live in a past historical period or fantastical setting or as an alien living on a spaceship.

Unless you’re a time traveller, you can’t possibly know what it’s like to live in the 14th Century or live on a spaceship hovering above Earth millions of years into the future. You can’t possibly know what it’s like to be an actual alien or to have magic of any sorts (using magic in virtual reality doesn’t count).

This piece of advice doesn’t give imagination the credit it deserves.

Without imagination, we wouldn’t have had superheroes or science fiction. We wouldn’t even have had Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. We wouldn’t have any media set in a non-human’s perspective, so no Marley & Me or Toy Story. We wouldn’t have one of the best (and scariest) pieces of literature, The Day of the Triffids, or hit games such as Assassin’s Creed.

All these examples are perfect for showing how important imagination is in creating stories we all love and adore.

While writing what you know can be brilliant as a starting point, expanding yourself beyond what you know is what’ll help you develop as a writer as you expand your worldview and empathise with others.

What do you think about this piece of advice? Do you agree with it?

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My Trip To America

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We’ve been planning this trip to America for about a year now, if not longer, thanks to my brother studying for a year abroad in California. As our plans changed, we found out about a family reunion that happens every 10 years or so with our American family. Deciding this was too perfect an opportunity to miss, me and mum immediately agreed to go, and added in Niagara Falls and New York City (per my request) afterwards. My brother didn’t end up coming due to unforeseen circumstances, but this has been the best holiday I’ve ever had. I haven’t felt this relaxed in a long time, if ever!

Dunkirk/Fredonia, NY & Chautauqua

I had no idea what to expect from upstate New York, but let me tell you, this was by far the best part of the entire trip.

In large part thanks to my family and how wonderful, nice and funny they all are. 140 people is overwhelming for anyone, especially when you don’t know anyone there, but they were all so welcoming to me and I had some great chats with several people. It’s so reassuring to know you have a good family to fall back on, especially if you wanna go back and visit.

I managed to tick off a few items from my bucket list, and my America specific bucket list, as well as cram a lot into the few days I spent there. For starters, I’d never been in a limo so you can imagine my joy when I finally got to ride in one*. I’d also been intrigued by the party bus and I’m glad I did go on, just to say I’d experienced it. I also went into Walmart with my auntie and uncle because I’ve heard so many things about it. It was huge! I don’t know what I expected, but you could honestly buy everything there. Well… everything except alcohol, as we found out one day.

We visited a gorgeous place one day called Chautauqua and while the art stalls and cute notebook I bought were good, it wasn’t anything compared to the lake and gorgeous houses around. God, I adore American houses. The space, the wooden panelling, how they design it – SO much better than UK houses. I took a TON of pictures of them all because I couldn’t resist.

*Most people go in one for prom but because there wasn’t enough room for all of us, I never got the chance

Niagara Falls

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When we stayed in Dunkirk/Fredonia, we happened to be near enough to the border between America and Canada, which conversely meant we were close enough to go to Niagara Falls. So we did. Me, mum, my auntie and my uncle went for a day trip up to Niagara Falls and had a lovely morning/afternoon getting wet and taking pictures of such an iconic sight. Admittedly, we couldn’t go over to the Canadian side so we stuck to the American side, but you could still get a stunning view of it. Definitely worth visiting.

New York

I’ve been wanting to visit New York since I was a kid, so to finally tick this off my bucket list has definitely been a highlight. However, as much as I enjoyed New York, I did find the tourists annoying at times. But I adore the skyscrapers and the constant lights, especially in the night time. It fills me with inspiration to be whoever I wanna be.

Central Park

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We went through Central Park to get somewhere else, which I’ll write below, but we took detours and ended up taking longer than necessary. Central Park is cool because you see the stunning skyscrapers from the park and it’s just nice to see them from a distance. Plus, there’s natural boulders and rocks dotted around that you can climb (I would like to add it’s harder than it looks!) and little ponds that you can play with toy boats on and statues of famous people around.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Met, as everyone calls it, was great when we finally arrived after our detour through Central Park. I fell in love with this stained glass and continued my love of marble statues. I’ve never really voiced it out loud except to mum but god I LOVE marble statues! They’re so soft and smooth and how they do get it so detailed? HOW??? It makes me want to start sculpting, but I know it’d take me a million years to be able to do what they do. Ugh. There were some cool American paintings too.

Empire State Building

I find cities so much more fascinating in the night. Sure, the city looks great in the daytime with all the pretty buildings dotted around and you can usually pick out the tourist attractions. However, in the night time, the buildings all twinkle and sparkle and it feels more magical. Like the city has finally woken up and come alive. The buildings don’t look as much the same (although, in a city like New York, that’s not a problem) and it just feels more… soft.

Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

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It was so interesting to hear the history behind the Statue of Liberty. I never knew it was created by a French man! Nor that the virtues came from the French, although considering what they are, I should’ve done. It was so cool to hear how it was essentially funded by immigrants and how it was built, and where.

Ellis Island was a point of interest for us because our ancestors’ went through there to start a new life in America in the 1920s. Once the guided tour had ended and we’d eaten, we searched for our ancestors and managed to find six of them that had come over. But we couldn’t find anymore, which is odd considering more than six came over.

Broadway

Someone at the family reunion told us about this ticket system to buy Broadway tickets on the day of the show for a discounted price. We decided, since this holiday was already costing a shit ton, why not end it with a musical? We’d looked through several shows and decided on Kinky Boots. I’d heard good things about it, but that’s mostly because Brendon Urie and Todrick Hall had been involved at one point. Anyway, we managed to get good seats for a reasonable price.

Kinky Boots was so good! The whole plot, the characterisation and the songs were spot on. I absolutely loved it. It had such a good message. Seeing drag queens represented too was awesome, because let me tell you, those drag queens slayed! They were stunning and incredible at dancing around.

Other Sights:

  • Rockefeller Centre – I wanted a picture so I walked over. It’s a cool building.
  • Radio City & The Tonight Show – I saw while passing to get to the Rockefeller Centre
  • The Late Show – we were staying in a hotel nearby
  • McGee’s Pub – i.e. the pub that influenced the pub in How I Met Your Mother (the creators of the show used to go there after work, before HIMYM was even an idea)
  • Macy’s & Target – two shops I’d heard about and I wanted to see what the fuss was about

Overall, this has been the best holiday ever. I haven’t felt this relaxed in a long time. Being with family and seeing the sights, as well as ticking things off my bucket list, really made this whole trip worthwhile.

Books vs. E-Books vs. Audiobooks

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There has long been a debate over which is better since e-books existence. But with the rise of audiobooks, I figured they deserved a place in this debate.

Books

Pros

There’s something nice about holding a physical book and what comes with it. Flipping pages, new/old book smell, folded corners. You can’t beat the physical sensation of a book. Bonus: if you drop your book in the water, it won’t do anything but maybe crease the pages.

Cons

Carrying around a physical book is heavy, especially when you only bring a small bag around with you. Additionally, if you care about the physical appearance of your book, carrying around a book could potentially scratch the cover and make it more battered.

E-books

Pros

You can have a lot of books stored in your library, and even if there’s not enough storage space on your device, you can store it in the cloud. Plus, they’re usually quite light so carrying them around is easy.

Cons

While they’re becoming more waterproof now, they generally won’t survive long periods of time in water. Not to mention you have to charge the device and remembering to do so can be easily forgotten.

Audiobooks

Pros

You can listen to any book you want anywhere you go. Just pop on an audiobook and away you go. They’re easy to use and convenient if you don’t have a lot of time to sit down and read.

Cons

You might not concentrate when listening to them and you might then miss a crucial part of the story, or just get totally lost. Additionally, like the e-books, you’ll need to charge it on whichever device you use.

Which do you prefer to use and why?

Writing Rules

Writing Rules

As a new writer, you’ll have heard, or will hear, some of the most famous writing rules to exist. But as the famous saying goes, ‘rules are made to be broken’. But in order to know how to break them, you must first know what they are.

There are the basic writing rules you learn when you’re young, such as where to put in commas (spoiler alert: nearly everyone either puts in too many commas or not enough commas, so don’t sweat it) or how to paragraph properly (please learn this one!), but the following rules are kept to fictional stories only (mostly).

1. Show, don’t tell

The number one writing rule every writer hears. Take comfort in the fact every writer has probably adhered to this, but has also broken it. Probably numerous times. Also take comfort in the fact all writers started out the way new writers do, and why this rule is told every time to a new writer.

When you first begin writing, it’s typically when you’re still learning how to write. You’ll probably begin with the very basics of a story, but you’re telling it. You’re telling the reader what’s happening rather than showing it, such as:

“The man walked to the shop and bought some milk. He was happy. He went home.”

It’s simple, but you’ve only told us about the man walking to the shop and buying milk instead of showing it. This is typically when teachers will tell you to use your five senses to liven up the description and go beyond the simple paragraph above, such as:

“The man walked to his local shop to buy some milk so he could make his favourite cup of tea. He searched the shelves until he found the small, green labelled, plastic milk bottle, and strode over to the cashier. Fishing in his pockets for money, he handed over the warm coins and smiled. He walked out the shop, a skip to his step, ready to make his cup of tea.”

The above paragraph is more engaging than the simple one I used before. However, as you can also see, I didn’t just show what the man was doing. I told you why he was buying some milk in the first place. Obviously, it’d be impossible not to tell some of the time, but there are times, especially in third person, when the reader needs to know something the main character doesn’t. For example:

“The man walked along, ready to make his cup of tea when he got home. But the news that would greet him when he arrived would make him forget all about his tea.”

As a reader, we’re intrigued now to know what’ll happen to the man when he arrives home. This small piece of telling is fine because we’ve showed the man getting his milk to make his tea before.

As a writer, learn how to show, then learn how to weave the telling in. A balance between the two is important and necessary.

2. Write what you know

This is an interesting piece of advice because it’s both necessary and not.

As a new writer, writing what you know is a brilliant basis. Typically, you start writing because you enjoy exploring and experimenting with what’s familiar to you. Perhaps you had a friend who did something truly hilarious and you want to develop a story around it. Perhaps something wild happened to you that deserves to be told, but probably exaggerated.

However, there are two problems with this piece of advice.

1. You’ll restrict yourself by only writing from your own perspective about your own life. Or perhaps you’ll expand it to people you know, but it’ll still restrict you to what you write about. Depending what type of story you’re writing, or if you’re writing a non fiction version of events, writing what you know is perfect. But generally, it’s a good foundation and that’s all.

2. Unless you’re a time traveller, immortal, an alien or a mythical creature, you can’t possibly know what any of that’s like. You can’t know exactly what it was like to live in the 1100’s, even with extensive research. You definitely can’t know what it’s like to live in space. You can’t know what it’s like to use magic literally, unless you use virtual reality. These kinds of stories/scenarios require you to use your imagination and write beyond what you know. They require you to imagine what it’d be like to live on a planet different from ours.

3. Don’t use adverbs

This one really varies on the writer giving this advice. Some writers don’t agree with this advice, while others stick by it resolutely. And they’d definitely shun me for my last sentence.

I understand why some writers are against adverbs. Sometimes they really aren’t necessary. Adding an adverb to the end of a sentence when it’s not needed is a common mistake new writers make. For example, they might write ‘he mumbled gravely’. In this context, we don’t need the adverb because you could show it instead. Additionally, it doesn’t really add anything to the scene or character, so why use it?

However, sometimes adverbs can add to a description in a way that other words can’t. For example, saying ‘a female skipped along’ is good, but ‘a female skipped along merrily’ adds a little extra. Those anti-adverb writers would say that’s a waste of valuable words, but I think it really does depend on the context. If you like adverbs, use them liberally and you’ll be fine.

4. Don’t have a prologue

This depends entirely on the story.

I’ll agree that some stories really don’t require a prologue. Because sometimes the prologue is just the main action scene but told at the start to excite the reader. Or other times it circles back round to the end of the story, which really makes you question why you needed it in the first place. Sometimes it’s an action packed scene to start the story, or set the tone, but then their first chapter is the most mundane chapter and you’re left wondering why that wasn’t the starting place.

But some prologues really work too. For example, in The Humans by Matt Haig, his prologue was setting up what the protagonist had done without giving anything away. He presumed the audience (i.e. his home planet) had already known what he’d done and he was filling them in. It was a good way to set up the story and get us interested, because we were then curious to know what he’d done.

5. Write everyday & read regularly

I understand why it’s a writing rule. Both are vitally important if you want to be a writer. However, to write everyday and read regularly requires you to purposefully slot that time into your day. I’m not saying there’s anything bad with that, but when you have an active social live (which society says you need), it can be hard to find that time. You have to be prepared to give up something to read or write, and that’s the first big issue.

Additionally, most the writers who tell you this are published and this is their full time job. They have time to read and write as they please. Most ordinary people don’t. Their 9to-5 jobs take up their time, and if it doesn’t, something else demands their attention. Some writers are sympathetic of this and understand it’s not possible to write everyday. Even regularly can be hard.

My advice? Read and write when you can. Developing a routine is very important, especially when reading and writing, but acknowledge what you are like. If your life is hectic, don’t feel guilty for not regularly committing to reading or writing. If you can only read certain books at certain times, don’t feel bad for that. If you can only write little snippets in really obscure places, don’t feel bad for that. You’ve gotta make the commitment to do this, sure, but fit it around you and what works best for you, not what some other writers say.


These rules are basic writing rules I’ve heard over my ten years of writing and the number one advice I can give from them all is:

All writing rules (asides from the absolute basics) are advice by other writers you don’t have to agree with.

Honestly, some writers will say their rules are ‘you should only write in the morning’ or ‘write for x amount of hours everyday’. It works for them but it might not work for you and that’s okay. Find what works for you. Figure out how to bend/break the rules, but learn them first. Counterintuitive, I know. But I promise, it helps.

Write how and what you wanna write. Anything else is learning and creating, just like baking a cake. You gotta learn how to bake that cake, then you can create it whatever way you want.

Are there any writing rules I missed? What rules do you agree/disagree with?