Why You Should (Not) Write What You Know

Image:© alphaspirit (Fotolia.com)

Every Story Has Been Written

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, but your story is not one of a kind. It’s not the first time you will hear this either. Every story has already been told.

  • Man v. fate
  • Man v. man
  • Man v. nature
  • Man v. self
  • Man v. society
  • Man v. supernatural
  • Man v. technology

While you could be discouraged that nothing you write will be 100% original, I say it is actually liberating. If everything has already been done, then everything is fair game. That means you can write about whatever you want! All you need to do is add your own spin. Color your story with your own voice.

Now, all you have to do is decide what you want to write.

Where do you start? People often say “write what you know”. That’s both good and bad advice at the same time.

Write What You Know: The Pros

Let’s talk about the good. Writing about what you know makes you comfortable. It makes you the de facto expert in what you are writing. It gives you authority, a platform. It helps you to build confidence and could even prevent the dreaded writer’s block.

For those of you who don’t know, I have written two books. The first is a self-published book Medicare Essentials: A Physician Insider Explains the Fine Print. The success of that book led to my being approached by a publisher to write Idiot’s Guides: Medicare.

I was able to write on Medicare because I knew something about the subject. As a doctor, someone who takes care of people on Medicare and someone who got paid by Medicare for the services I provided, I seemed the right person for the job. Not only that, I have experience consulting with hospitals about what Medicare will and will not cover. I knew both sides of the story.

So I wrote what I knew. I got a traditional publishing deal. Sweet!

Write What You Know: The Cons

Writing about what you know can get, well, boring. A long line of straight facts can do little to inspire your reader. There will also come a time when you exhaust your material. Because let’s face it, you may know a lot but you don’t know everything.

If I only wrote about what I knew about Medicare, plain and simple, a pretty dry subject, I would not have sold many books. By approaching the material with passion, by appealing to people with what frustrates me about Medicare, about the mistakes I saw people making, how I saw people being cheated out of dollars and care that they deserved, I appealed to an audience. I made myself unique. I stood out, but I could only do that after extensive research.

It is not enough to relay the facts. You have to infuse some of yourself into what you write to build an audience, whether it’s non-fiction or fiction.

You can start with what you know, but that is only a stepping stone. You have to build on it. You have to grow from it. You have to learn new things to expand on that knowledge. You have to add different viewpoints and stretch that material.

Write More Than You Know

I learned so much about Medicare during my research that Verywell.com approached me to be their Medicare expert. Now I get paid to write articles for them every month, which allows me to stay on top of my Medicare knowledge. Add to that my book royalties, and I have a bonafide writing career. My success story can be yours too.

What am I trying to say?

While “write what you know” can be a good way to get your feet wet, what you know NOW will never be enough. You have to be willing to branch out to make it work. You have to be brave enough to push past those boundaries.

Use your life experience to inspire other avenues. Build new worlds. Share your hopes, your fears. Explore your wildest fantasies. Want more, do more, be more.

Writing what you know may jumpstart your writing, but know you are more than that.

Otherwise, plan for a short and limited writing career.