"Write what you know" is some of the most frequently quoted writing advice, and it's also frequently misunderstood. I've seen a lot of discussion about how literal a writer should be with this advice, which always surprises me. John Grisham may have been a lawyer before he started writing legal thrillers, but he's probably in the minority for writing about his profession. Plenty of writers have boring day jobs, or an oddball series of jobs on their resume. Even before I finished my first novel, I thought writing what you know meant writing from a place of emotional truth. That it had nothing to do with the literal circumstances of my life, or any writer's life. That would be incredibly restricting, and that's not what fiction is all about.
I've written twelve books now. Some have been published, some not. As I start on manuscript number thirteen, I've decided not to write what I know anymore. I want to try something a little different: I'm going to write what I want to know.
We write for a lot of reasons. To tell stories and to share them through publication are just two reasons. Another is discovery. Exploration. To find answers to questions. My new manuscript is built around this question: how far into darkness can a person venture and still find their way back, still find redemption? The story will still be dressed up in pretty paranormal metaphors (witchcraft, alchemy, vampires). And it will have a steamy romance, because what's not to love about steamy romance? ;) But this time the emotional question at the core of the story is one I don't have an answer for from my own experience. I'm a little nervous about this, mostly because I have a feeling these characters will wind up in some very dark places. But I am excited to be changing how I approach a story, and writing what I want to know instead of what I already know.
A question for my fellow writers: Do you write what you know, or what you want to know?
Sonya Clark is the author of the magic-meets-cyberpunk Magic Born trilogy, Trancehack, Witchlight, and the forthcoming Firewall. Learn more at www.sonyaclark.net.