Over the past weeks we’ve examined Tip # 1: Reading and Tip # 2: Writing every day. Now I examine tip # 3:
3. Write what you know.
This is probably the most common piece of advice given a beginning writer. It is also probably the most misunderstood. It doesn’t mean you need to write about the social trials of high school life if you’re a student. Nor does it mean you have to write about book keeping if you’re an accountant or restaurants if you’re a line cook.
“Write what you know” primarily refers to genre.
If your favorite books are biographies, write a biography, not a sword and sorcery fantasy. You are a fan of biographies, a fan of the genre. Even if you can’t write them out on paper, you have internalized the conventions of the genre. You know how they are usually put together, what the reader expects, what is acceptable and what isn’t. The same holds true whether you’re a fan of history, hard-boiled detective, or bodice-ripping romance. Write the type of work you know the most about.
When you’re told to “write what you know,” what they’re really telling you is to write the type of work you would like to read.