Write What You Know vs. Write What You Like

One of the most common pieces of advice given to aspiring writers is: Write what you knowIt seems reasonable. If you write about what you know, then you’re likely to write something solid because you’re familiar with the material. But sometimes, writing about what you know is either harder than it looks, or just doesn’t interest you enough to delve deeply into it for a sustained period of time. Maybe you have a passing familiarity with the material, and you don’t have enough of the background information or know enough of the underlying issues to really bring depth to the story. Maybe it was interesting when you became familiar with it, but it’s really uninspiring after that initial burst.

Another piece of advice, far less commonly given out, is: Write what you like. Some years back, an editor whose blog I followed created a list of story ideas she would love to see cross her inbox (I saved some of them because they were really interesting ideas.), and invited authors and editors to share their lists. It was an interesting exercise because it’s too easy to get caught up in this sense of trying to write what you feel you’re supposed to write, or in trying to catch trends that are often dead by the time they hit the mainstream, or to get caught up in the above. But if you look around at what’s available and can’t find a story you’d like to read, then you’re the ideal person to fill that gap with your own story, and you’ll likely stay with it because the idea interests you.

None of this is to say that what you know and what you like can’t intersect. If they do, go for it!

As for me, I run into this struggle a lot in my own work. I know the stories I would enjoy writing…and while they reflect my own reading and viewing habits, they don’t reflect what I know (sometimes to comical levels). Fortunately, I’ve figured out I can turn that gap in my own writing abilities into teachable moments – as in, they get added to the skill development section of my to-do list. I haven’t been brave enough to actually take on one of those learning tasks yet, but because of a story I’m desperate to make match my vision of what the story could and should be I’m now entertaining options for how to turn what I like into what I know.

How about you? Do you write what you know, what you like, or some combination? And when you find something you like but struggle to write, how do you handle that?

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