Guest Writers / Tips

Branch out: Write what you know and beyond


All writers have heard this piece of advice: Write what you know. It makes sense to write about things that are familiar. As writers, we are most passionate about that which is personal. When we write about things we love, it shows in our writing. It elevates our work.

write what you know

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It’s important for us to offer our unique outlook on the world through our writing. If you grew up in the suburbs, then you have the life experience to write a piece exploring the ins and outs of suburban culture.

If you’re a tennis fan, then you might want to include a tennis match as a plot point. No one sees the world exactly like we do, and drawing from what we know helps us share our perspective.

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But it would be a waste for you to only write what you know. Our unique lives are limited. By stretching our limits we grow as writers and as people. We shouldn’t just write what we know; we need to know what we write.

First, do your research. The Internet is a great place to start, but it shouldn’t be your only source of information. Pretend you’re writing a novel about a woman who owns a bakery. After an Internet search, reading books on baking bread and pastries, learning about starting and owning a store and interviewing real bakery shop owners will supplement your research. Validate that your information is accurate.

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Preliminary research is paramount. This is the research that will influence your story the most. It will determine characterization, plot and setting. Continuing to research while writing is important too, because you never know when new information will arise. Consulting with experts is also a good idea. In the case of the bakery owner example, it would be helpful to check some details of your story with the owner of a real bakery.

When writing about an experience that is not your own, be sensitive to those who have lived that experience. Many topics that are great writing material are also very sensitive. If you decide to write on a topic that you do not have direct experience with, talk to others who do have experience. For example, if you are a male who wishes to write a story exploring the detrimental effects of sexism on working mothers, talk to working mothers.

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As writers, we are at our best when we write what we know and know what we write. Both love and research are crucial to create high-quality work. Without one, something will always be missing. There is always more to learn, even if it is something we already know a lot about.

And, after pouring hours of research into a once-unfamiliar subject, you will probably fall in love with it. So, always strive bring passion and knowledge together in your writing. You might be surprised by how much your writing will take off.

Lexi Bollis is a student at Kenyon College pursuing an English major with an emphasis in Creative Writing and a double minor in Music and Mathematics. You can find her other writing at Miss Millenia Magazine, Her Campus Kenyon and Geek Insider.

Lexi Bollis

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