“Write what you know.”
We hear it all the time as writers, just as often as we hear “kill the adverbs,” “don’t disregard the first draft,” and all of the other common tips about writing. But while writing what you know is definitely useful in one sense, writing what you don’t know can be just as rewarding.
Why You Shouldn’t Write What You Know
If we all only wrote what we knew, we’d limit ourselves so much. We’d be confined to only writing characters based on people we know, setting stories in places we’ve been, and plots with problems we’d faced before. If we could only write what we knew, we’d only be writing our stories. And after a while, we’d run out.
Writing what you don’t know allows you to step into somebody else’s shoes and see the world from their point of view.
Just because you’ve never been homeless doesn’t mean you can’t write about a homeless man. It’s a chance to use your imagination and think about how they might feel. Have you ever heard that writers are often empathetic people? This is why.
I know why you might be afraid to step into what you DON’T know. You might be scared you will get it “wrong.”
What if you write a book set in France and someone from France happens to read it and gets mad about the details you messed up?
What if your main character is deaf and someone who is deaf is outraged at the misrepresentation?
How to Write What You DON’T Know and Not Offend EVERYONE
Here’s the good news: there are ways you can write what you don’t know and still get the details right. Here are three ways to do it:
The internet is a fantastic resource for everything you need to know about anything.
There are articles and message boards and entire websites dedicated to just about every subject.
Spend a few hours browsing Google and you’ll be surprised at just how much information you can get without ever having to leave your desk chair.
2. Experience it firsthand
This might be a little trickier because of either money problems or just the fact that it’s not possible to experience everything you’re writing about.
But, if you can, visit the setting of your book. Go to France and take pictures and write about what you see.
You can take a few days to “become” your character.
Maybe she doesn’t speak for whatever reason. If so, go for a day without speaking and record your difficulties and experiences along the way.
3. Talk to people
People are often very willing to help you out if they know you’re truly interested in what they have to say.
I have blogging friends all over the world who would be more than happy to explain what life’s like in England or Australia.
Ask whoever you can for help, and if you don’t personally know of anyone, try sending out a tweet or Facebook post with an invitation to talk to you. I’m sure you’ll find someone in the end.
What are your tricks to writing what you don’t know? Let us know in the comments section.
Let’s step out of our comfort zones for a little bit. Take fifteen minutes to write about something you’ve never written about. This something has to be something you don’t know, too.
Use one or more of the three tricks above to help you if you get stuck.
When you’re time is up and if you wish, post your practice in the comments. Be sure to give your fellow writers some love, too.