I’ve heard the following line for years now: Write what you know. A lot of writers take that to mean “write about the stuff you have experienced.” Being the slightly loopy person that I am, I have started doing the complete opposite.
Granted, my early middle school and high school writings all took place in my hometown, in my schools, during events I went to, and involved people who I knew. I was young and only knew West Palm Beach, Florida. Once I started seeing other places, my desire to write about the world grew in leaps and bounds.
Now, my writings almost all take place outside of Florida, and in places I have never been to. I know what you’re thinking; how can you write about a place you have never seen in person? Even research cannot grasp the smells, the air, and all of the sounds of an area.
This is true. Answer me this, though; how many people do you know can describe those things about their own hometown? A lot of people do not take the time to even pay attention to the details of their everyday world. That is part of an artist’s job, to bring the details usually ignored to life.
Another question to ponder: What about the writers who create brand new worlds? They have never physically been there, because it is all in their minds. Everything they know about this world, they created. So, in essence, they are writing what they don’t know. By the time they finish, though, they will know that world inside out.
Writing about new places has another interesting effect on me: I want to visit those places, badly. I am writing a spy thriller right now that takes place in South Korea. Why? Well, some of my characters were inspired by a group of hilariously interesting Korean guys, and I thought “why not.” Giving the story a main character from the United States who knows nothing about Korea and gets stuck there is an opportunity. I can now explore Korea through her.
I’m not saying that it is bad to write what you know. I am saying that it is okay to write about what you don’t know, too. That’s how it becomes something you know.