Moving Beyond “Write What You Know”

The adage “write what you know” has been a cornerstone of writing advice for decades. It encourages writers to draw from their own experiences, lending authenticity and depth to their work. But this approach can also be limiting. Confining yourself to only what you know can stifle your creativity and lead to repetitive themes and dull prose. Why not explore two alternative approaches and stretch your creative muscles?

Write What You Want to Know

Curiosity can be a powerful catalyst for creativity. When you write about something you’re eager to know more about, the process of discovery can infuse your work with a greater sense of wonder and excitement.
You engage with new subjects
Diving into topics you know nothing about means you’re more likely to actively engage in the research and learning process, leading to richer, more detailed narratives. Whether it’s the intricacies of quantum physics for a sci-fi novel or the subtleties of medieval cuisine for a historical fiction piece, your enthusiasm for the subject will shine through.
You expand your own horizons
By stepping out of your comfort zone, you’re opening yourself up to a broader range of experiences and perspectives. This not only enhances your storytelling but also fosters personal growth. You can form a deeper understanding of the world around you, making you a more empathetic and informed writer.
You maintain your passion for the craft
When you explore new knowledge, writing can become an adventure. The process of uncovering new information and weaving it into your narrative may motivate you to write more or write in a different style or genre. And passion is contagious – if you are genuinely fascinated by this new subject, your work often becomes more compelling.

Write What You Never Knew

This concept might seem paradoxical at first glance, but it’s rooted in the idea of exploring uncharted territories within your own imagination and understanding. Writing what you never knew involves tapping into the unknown, the subconscious, and the speculative.
You tap into the power of your own imagination
One of the most exciting aspects of writing is the ability to create entirely new worlds, characters, and scenarios. By writing what you never knew, you allow your imagination to run wild. This can lead to innovative and original stories that push the boundaries of conventional genres.
You can explore subconscious themes
Often, writers uncover themes and ideas they were not consciously aware of and the writing process becomes a form of self-discovery, revealing hidden fears, desires, and thoughts. This approach can result in deeply personal and resonant works that connect with readers on a profound level.
You can break the mold
Writing what you never knew encourages experimentation. It pushes you to break free from clichés and traditional narrative structures, sometimes resulting in unique, avant-garde works that stand out in a crowded literary landscape. You give yourself permission to take risks and embrace the unknown, both in your writing and in your understanding of what storytelling can be.

Integrating the Two Approaches

While each of these approaches has its own merits, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. In fact, combining them can lead to richer, more nuanced writing.
Balance Familiarity and Novelty
Try starting with what you know as a foundation and then build upon it with elements of what you want to know and what you never knew. This blend can create a balanced narrative that is both authentic and innovative. For instance, if you’re writing a novel set in a city you’re familiar with, introduce speculative elements based on your curiosity about future technologies and your imagination of how they might change urban life.
Layer on Complexity
By weaving together different layers of knowledge and speculation, you can add complexity to your characters and plot. A character might be based on someone you know (write what you know), find themselves in a situation you’re curious about (write what you want to know), and face challenges that delve into themes you hadn’t previously considered (write what you never knew). This multidimensional approach can lead to richer, more engaging stories.
Continuous Learning and Adaptation
Writers who stick with the tried and true may become bored with their craft. Instead, challenge yourself to continually push the envelope. By remaining open to new information and perspectives, and by daring to explore the unknown, you can keep your writing fresh and exciting, expand your abilities, and also keep yourself motivated and inspired.


“Write what you know” is a valuable piece of advice, but it’s just the beginning. By embracing curiosity with “write what you want to know” and the imagination with “write what you never knew,” writers can enrich their storytelling and embrace a more dynamic, multifaceted view of writing, leading to personal growth and creative innovation. So, the next time you sit down to write, remember: the world is vast, and your mind is even vaster. Don’t be afraid to explore both.

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