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'Write What You Know' is Absolute Garbage

Atlin Merrick

Warp-faced tape on a rigid heddle weaving

"Just a wee reminder that whatever you're writing right now…it's worth every moment of your time. It doesn't matter if there has been a story 'like' it—there's always been stories of falling in love, growing up, and on and on—this is your story told your way."

I recently posted that on Twitter and several folks said they needed those words that day.

Which has inspired me to also put those words here so you can see 'em again and, more importantly, weave them into your soul.

No one can tell a story like you do, absolutely no one. I don't care if we're talking AI/ChatGPT bots either, because they can't write anything that wasn't put into them, but you?

You think.

You look at the world and in that seeing you're inspired by how that thing threads in with what you heard yesterday, and how those things unite to form the foundation of your protagonist or poem or polemic — whatever it is you're writing.

Your Voice: we need the way you tell the tale

The folks who first said the asinine words 'write what you know' were probably "literature" profs penning damp little novels about wanting to bang undergrads.

But before them?

Before those bores, people wrote about the amazing and fantastic, about worlds and wonders they had never seen – unless you believe Emily Dickinson had conversations with Death, Shakespeare saw ghosts, or Ursula K LeGuin could change the weather?

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So to hell with staying in your lane, write about demons and demisexuals and the plant personifications of the seven deadly sins if that's what calls you. If you don't identify as, for example, a demisexual, write your story anyway – and while you're on that road learn about the things you don't know (same as you do with street names and cities and points in history), and talk to those who do know what you don't, to make sure you got things right.

What you don't do is second guess yourself because some fool you never met told you what you should write. You'll never, ever, not one time ever please these old cranks who feel themselves arbiters of literature and do you know why?

You don't look like them.

If you're female, queer, disabled, a person of color, neurodivergent, or hell, even just happy as a writer, you do not look like the people who will tell you what should and shouldn't write. So, since they will never respect your words, you need not respect theirs.

Here's the Thing: They Envy You

Those folks who demand you fit into a small writing box are very definitely envious of your imagination, your expansiveness, your belief that with research and respect you can imagine yourself into worlds you'll never inhabit.

They can't do that so they'll tell you it can't be done.

They lie.

In your heart you know they lie so know this too: they can be safely ignored.

Please, do anything and everything (all at once!): write gay pirates on high seas ships, interview Hades for a poem, put yourself into the people and places that fascinate and enthrall you and you will enthrall us.

Research, respect, and then weave us your worlds.

Please, please write what you love…we desperately need your words.

Image: Weaving

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  • Stacy Lawhorne on

    Not only are these important and wise words . . . My son and I got a giggle out of "The folks who first said the asinine words ‘write what you know’ were probably “literature” profs penning damp little novels about wanting to bang undergrads." snort Thank you!

  • James Dick on

    Me: “I wanna write a story about black holes.”

    Literature Gatekeepers: “You don’t know about black holes, ergo, you cannot write about them. Only write what you know.”

    Me: “Oh dang, fair point.” reads book about black holes, expands knowledge base, writes from new knowledge.

    Literature Gatekeepers: Falls out of their wing back chairs. wHaT sOrCeRy Is ThIs?!?

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