First Rule of Writing

Rules are interesting little critters, aren't they? Writers like rules. Even more, they like to break rules.

Advocated By All

Many years ago, the first so-called rule about writing that I learned was what all published writers, editors, and agents always say. Write what you know. I'm pretty sure all writers still hear this because I hear it when I pop into writers' conferences.

I even say it when I teach workshops and classes. Write what you know. Why? Because it gives authenticity to your words. By the way, this rule applies whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction, whether it's a book project or a blog on the web.

Now, people who don't write fiction think that writing what you know doesn't apply. After all, you're just making it up. Right?


Wrong! In fiction, writing what you know means not only getting the facts straight on your information plot but also finding the underlying universal truth that is as real for an American as it is for an Italian or a Japanese. It's the honesty and recognizable truth that makes fiction come to life. And it's what will make an editor offer you a book publishing contract or a reader buy your ebook.

One might even say that writing what you know - the emotions you feel when hurt, scared, angry, or happy - is even more important in fiction because without that truth, your fiction will never succeed.

My Spin

Over the years, I've put my own spin on the "write what you know" rule as it applies to your depth of knowledge. If you've read some of my blog posts, how-to write articles or taken a class or seen me giving a presentation at a conference, you've probably heard me say it this way: Write what you know OR WANT TO KNOW.

I truly think if you are interested enough in a subject to do the necessary research AND if you have the ability to articulately express ideas then you can write on a variety of subjects without necessarily being an expert. That's what freelance writing is all about.

I also know that if you want to learn something then teach it. Researching and writing about a subject is a form of self-education.

So don't be intimidated by not being an expert on a particular subject if it interests you enough to learn about it. Without realizing it, you'll become an expert. I know I have on any number of subjects that have fascinated me enough to land jobs writing about them.

Takeaway Truth

Always remember, you might be able to fake expert knowledge part of the time, but you can never fake truth and get away with it.

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