Everyone has heard the advice given to new writers: "Write what you know."
This might be one of the big lies of writing. Ken Kesey said "Don't write what you know. What you know is boring. Write what you don't know."We need to write about what excites us and what excites us is what's new, the unknown. We want to get out of our comfort zone and explore new territory.Writing is exploring. When we write, we learn new things about characters and what moves them. That's why we write, at least it is for me. Hemingway said that knowledge is found at the point of a pencil, Writing is exploring.
Even writers of history are looking for a new angle on that history. The best histories don't follow well-traveled paths, but step off those paths in search of something new.
I made this point about writing what you don't know in a radio interview i gave on Sunday. You can listen to the interview on my Hawaiian-eye blog. The interviewer asked why my main character in most of my stories is a woman and how I approached that. I explained that I can't be lazy when I write from a woman's POV. I admit that I do have a tendency toward laziness in my writing, especially when I write what I know or when I create a character who resembles me or people I know. Creating characters who are not like me forces me to call on my imagination and explore what I don't know. When I write what I know, the result is flat and boring.
Recently a friend showed me a story she'd written. This person is an excellent writer, but this particular story was not. The story was about some people we both know. Their names were thinly disguised, but the places and most of the incidents in the story were real. Therein lies the problem. The characters in the were flat and uninteresting because my friend had confined herself to only visible, surface features and had not gone into their complexities. She had not delved into the unknown.
How often have you heard that a character was taken from real life, that they "really did that," or they "really talk that way" only to find the character was flat and boring? It's not that real life and real people aren't boring, but that to make them come alive on the page we need to get deep into them and explore what we don't know.
So writers, "Write what you don't know."
Hawaiian Eye Blog