'Write What You Know' is Bullshit
"Write what you know" is the most popular piece of advice given to people all over the world. And it's complete bullshit.
I love working at No Film School because I get paid a nominal fee to share my opinions on screenwriting and I get to examine popular theories and tips without having to serve any overlords. We're not selling a product, we're just aggregating advice. That means, if I say something that's bullshit, I get called out on it in the comments.
Sometimes it's great, sometimes it sucks.
But today, I want to focus our column on calling out the biggest piece of bullshit you'll hear when you're trying to break in as a writer...
"Write what you know!"
So, let's jump in and keep it quick.
"Write What You Know" is Bullshit
When you're starting out as a writer, it can feel safe and comforting to stick to topics or experiences close to your wheelhouse. You may know what happens in Southie because you grew up there, or you might have a personal experience to Cuba because your family emigrated from there, but I sincerely doubt you ever experienced what it was like to be fighting the Trojan War or being rocketed out into space through a black hole.
That's because the most important tool as a writer is your imagination.
And if you can't imagine anything outside the space you inhabit within the world you're going to have a brief and stunted career.
Harness your imagination
The reason I hate the idea of only writing what you know is that it feels like it discourages exploration. Writing should be about chasing what makes you curious. You're going to have to research anyway, so why not chase something you want to know about?
No matter what, your subconscious is going to bring parts of your personality to each character. And when you research their motivations, you're going to know about them and what drives them, too.
Do you think Tarantino knows about being a Nazi Hunter?
Or that Phoebe Waller-Bridge knows about being James Bond?
Great writers bring personal journeys to their characters, but they don't get stuck talking about only the journeys they've been on.
Write What You're Passionate About Watching
Possibly the only piece of generic advice that I buy into is the idea that you should write the movie or TV show that you'd be interested in watching.
Chasing trends is a fool's errand.
Sit your ass in a chair and figure out what would get you in a theater or to commit to watching weekly. Not only will this make writing it more fun, even in the hard times, but it will also help develop your voice as a writer. It can define who you're supposed to be in the industry and the kinds of stories people can look forward to you telling.
So stop reading and get writing!
What's next? Read more terrible writing advice!
We've all heard some terrible writing advice in our lives. It might have been from so-called "experts," professors, or even in an unhelpful YouTube tutorial, but there are good writing lessons at the heart of every bad note. Let's look at a few together to see what you can glean.
Click the link!