Write About What You Know

As Oor Wullie would say, “Jings crivens help ma boab!”

It’s been a busy and intense first few weeks and I can’t believe that it’s mid semester already. My head is jammed with new information and ideas!

The MLitt course has made me accept the sad realisation that there are so many books and so little time. No matter how many years I have left on the planet, I won’t live long enough to get through all the books I want to read and all the books I should read. Not a class has concluded without several recommended texts. Please no more! Have mercy on my groaning bedside table and my Amazon account. But being a reader of quality novels is vital to making me a better writer.

Apart from a time issue, reading books is the easy part. The difficulty is then deciding what I should write about? I’ve often heard the advice that you should write about what you know. 




Hmmm…It’s an interesting statement in the week that the film, ‘Anonymous’ was released claiming that Shakespeare didn’t actually write his plays. The bard is portrayed as an uneducated drunken idiot and suggests that the Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere actually penned the great works.  The conspiracy is based on the idea that there is no way a working class man could write brilliant literature and so these must have been the masterpieces of a well-travelled aristocrat.  If you should write about what you know then surely Shakespeare was incapable of writing distinctively Italian plays when he never actually left England?


For over 150 years, the question has been did he or didn’t he? So was Shakespeare a fraud? We’ll never know. And does it really matter anyway? I haven’t seen the film yet but it does make me consider the idea of writing about what you know.

If a writer is only to write about what they know there would be no science fiction or fantasy novels (not that I’d be upset) as they couldn’t possibly have travelled aboard a Time Machine. And what about the crime fiction genre?  Do we expect a writer to commit a murder before she can effectively write about one?



Who wants to read about ordinary people living ordinary lives?  That’s why I don’t plan to take the phrase literally in my writing.  If I want to write a historical piece (although that sounds like really hard work to me) then I don’t need to have lived in those times (that’s what the internet is for).  But I do need to know about human emotions such as fear, love, anger so that readers can relate to the story and empathise with the characters.

This week I hate to admit that I got a tiny bit excited at the thought of using my new Dyson (well to be fair it is a DC24 Ultra-Lightweight Dyson Animal Ball Upright Vacuum Cleaner for pet owners!) but it’s hardly going to inspire a great work of literary genius. If I stuck to just writing about what I know it would make a very dull read. That’s why I’m off to hoover the bedrooms while I plan out how I can write about a drug dealing gangster…


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