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Thursday, August 1st, 2013 04:46 pm
I think every writer and everyone who wants to be a writer has, at some point, encountered this piece of writer's advice: "Write what you know." I also suspect this piece of advice is responsible for the High School AU (alternative universe) and, more recently, the Coffee Shop AU that are so prominent in fanfiction.

Don't get me wrong. "Write what you know" is not bad advice. The problem is that it was poorly written or misquoted or something and many people approach it from the wrong angle. People write about coffee shops and high schools because it's what they're familiar with. It's what they know. That's not a bad thing. When someone limits themselves because that's all they know, then there's a problem.

Honestly, this piece of advice is much better written as, "Know what you write." With this piece of advice, you can write whatever you want, as long as you do the research. If you don't do the research, your readers are going to notice and wonder how you managed to mess up something so simple. They will then inform you of your mistakes. Repeatedly. At least, the vocal ones will. The quiet ones will just stop reading. So if 50 Shades of Grey inspired you to write an erotic novel about Japanese Rope Bondage, you better make sure you know something about Japanese Rope Bondage.

Yes, research is a lot of work. But it can be a lot of fun, too, especially if you're researching something that interests you enough to write about. Heck, just researching can be inspiring to a writer and some writers find it necessary to set a time limit for how long they can spend researching in a day.

You're not expected to know everything, mostly because no one can know everything, but your readers do expect you to be knowledgeable about the subject you spent the time writing a book on. This is actually the logic behind the joke that if you want to murder someone and get away with it, ask a murder mystery author how they'd do it.

The point is, you can write about anything as long as you know what you're writing about. Learning never stops. And one of the best parts of being a writer? You've got the excuse to learn whatever you want because it's part of your job.
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