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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Write What You Love, Not What You Know

Some writers don’t write because they don’t know what to write. They’ve been misled by the conventional wisdom that you should “write what you know.” How stultifying, how limiting, how uttering boring!

A bit of confusion arises here because “writing” is both a noun referring to the finished product and a verb referring to the process that leads you to that end product. When we talk about the finished product, you do need to know something about what you’re writing when you share it with an audience.

Maybe the rule ought to be “Publish what you know,” but even that’s risky – some of the worst writing (both process and end product) comes from people spouting off about what they “know” is true when really all they have is unquestioned and uninformed opinion.

Knowing exactly what you’re going to write before you start writing can be deadly. We aren’t supposed to know the answers when we begin. Start the process of writing with good questions and you stand a chance of ending with good writing.

Good writing comes from exploring, researching, pondering, challenging, forming and reforming your own thinking about things you don’t know but are curious or passionate about. Writing is a discovery process. Writers should always start with more questions than answers. Start the entire project with more questions than answers and start each day’s writing session with more questions than answers.

For creativity’s sake, don’t wait until you know what to write – write to figure out what you think you might know and more importantly, what you don’t know yet. Then you can go find out.

Don’t worry for one second about not knowing what to write. Write about what you love. Follow your passions. Write about the people (real or fictional), places and things (real or fanciful), problems and challenges (real or metaphoric) that you care deeply about. Don’t worry you don’t know enough; worry that you don’t question enough.

Knowledge is what you gain in the process of following your love. Love can’t be faked. Love is what keeps bringing you back no matter how challenging, disappointing, frustrating or just plain hard it is to figure out what you think and feel and then to shape that into words.

If you need a rule, let it be this: Write what you love.

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2 Comments on “Write What You Love, Not What You Know”

  1. rosannebane February 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm #

    Thanks Laura!


  2. Laura Sommers February 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    Amen! I knew NOTHING about the late 19th century when I started writing historical novels. I just felt a deep curiosity about the era and how difficult life must have been like for women. That’s all it took to get me started. I’m still not an expert on that time period, but I have a much better “feel” for it, plus a long list of resources and contacts! The research is what adds a nice “left brain” component to my writing work.


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