All too often I hear the same writing advice: Write What You Know. This tidbit came from multiple sources – high school classes, college workshops, books, and an onslaught of online articles on writing. And here I am adding to that online onslaught to clarify this advice – that, like all other pieces of writing advice, this is an incomplete notion.
If every writer stuck to writing what they knew about, the world would be buried in an avalanche of books centered on cubicles, taxes, what was studied throughout any number of years of schooling, and waiting in the dentist’s office. Fiction as we know it would only exist as a rehash of daily life, as creative nonfiction. This is a wonderful genre, but the world’s collection of literature would be missing the genres of fantasy, surrealism, and magical realism. If Franz Kafka stuck to what he knew, Gregor Samsa would have never turned into an insect!
If I only wrote what I knew, I would be writing books on being a cashier at a grocery store, selling tickets and popcorn at a move theatre, being in a sorority, being an English major, writing for a student newspaper, and partaking in the plethora of extracurricular activities that I did throughout my life. Any one of these topics would make a good piece of literary fiction, or even a memoir. But it would also be quite limited, and my ideas would only go so far as to what I have already experienced.
When imagination is added to what is known, reality becomes fantastical. A night selling tickets and concessions can become a night to an indoor circus in a room that is larger than the building could possibly hold. Mopping a bathroom floor at a grocery store can become discovering a magic portal to another world via soapy puddle. In literature, anything can happen. Writing is a magical experience where concrete words on the page become abstract stories.
Writing what you know is a great piece of writing advice – but I now offer a revision: Write What You Know and Imagine.