Write What You Know - Part I
Updated: May 29, 2020
This is a piece of advice I learned early on in my writing career. We have discussed this topic a few times at my writing group, Write on Water. Writing is difficult enough without writing about a subject you know little about. Why make things more difficult than they have to be?
We all know writing is subjective and not everyone is going to like your stories, but if you write something and get the facts wrong, you will receive the wrath of every reader who knows about the subject you just butchered. So, you understand what I'm saying here - if you are going to publish your work, make sure you know what you are writing about.
As a copywriter, I have written about many products and services. There have been times when I have had to unpublish or rework ads or media releases. Occasionally I made the error, but most of the time it was the client sending me incomplete or incorrect facts. This is where research comes into play. Research all your facts and figures and check any references, make sure they are reputable sources. This is especially important for non-fiction works.
My Write on Water friend, the lovely Conchita from Spain, gives an example of someone who is not from a certain country, writing about that country. In this case, it was Ernest Hemingway, so he knew what he was doing, even though he is American, not Spanish. There are always exceptions to rules, but unless you know a lot about the subject you are writing, leave it to someone else to write. This applies to all types and genres of writing, readers can spot a fraud from the first paragraph.
The moral of this story is, "Pick a subject you know a lot about; research it, write it, edit and proofread it many times and people will enjoy reading your work." This will add to your success as a published writer.
Now, here is what Conchita had to say -
By Conchita Gar Santiago
Do you have the right to write about a country or culture that isn't your own?
I couldn't imagine a most ridiculous, nonsense, full of crap writer, therefore his/her writing than somebody writing about a subject, culture, country, religion... when that writer knows absolutely nothing at all about it.
Knowing. It's the keyword. Not what your passport says you're from.
Hemingway wrote a book about the Spanish Civil War. Was he Spanish? No. Is it a good book? Yes. We all know Hemingway was American, but he had been in Spain. He knew what he was talking about.
Shouldn't he have written the book because he was American and the story was set in Spain, about Spanish people, about Spanish affairs? Imagine. We'd have been denied of 'From whom the bells toll.'
I don't have a problem with a writer writing about a country different from the one his/her passport mentions.
I have a problem, however, about a writer changing a story that is already written.
When somebody wants to change a good story, because it is good, but it doesn't fit into today's ideas of correctness, and they change the character or the situation, that's what in my opinion is wrong. You like the story, don't touch it. You don't like the story, forget about it.
If you want your ideas of what it should be, reflected on a story, write it on a totally new one.
Writing about your travels is a good example of Writing What You Know. Who better to write about your recent trip to the French Alps than you? A quick search through Twitter or Instagram and you will see millions of travel photos, many of which are from travel writers.
Travel writing can be a lucrative profession and I enjoy reading about other peoples' adventures. All you need is a good camera, a journal to write down your experiences, and enough money saved to enjoy your trip. Then, the more you travel and write, the more money you will earn. This sounds like a great way to earn a living to me. What do you think, would you make it as a travel writer?