Write What you Don’t Know


I used to work with an engineer; we’ll call her Gertrude for the sake of this post. You never know who’s reading. (I know you’re there, lurkers.) Gertrude was without doubt the most naive of naive people I’d ever met. When I came out to her, after an entirely too long exchange of “nuh-uh’s” and “yeah-huh’s,” Gertrude got really quiet and asked “How do you, erm, I mean, how does that work, exactly?” She even asked me to draw pictures – which were ugly and more a Rorschach test than an amateur Kama Sutra knock-off, and I’m pretty sure I left her more confused and a bit traumatized by the end of it.

Stick with me. I have a point, I promise.

Gertrude was also a writer. In all her ignorance, I’m confident that Gertrude could have written a lesbian sex scene and made it as steamy and salacious as any erotica novelist.

There’s an adage that floats around the writing community that goes, “Write what you know.”

That may be all well and good for non-fiction writers. For fiction? Meh.

Janet Evanovich is not a bounty hunter (that we know of), but that didn’t stop her from writing her Stephanie Plum novels. Anne Rice? Pretty sure she isn’t a vampire. She does book signings by daylight. Christopher Moore – not a vampire, demon, or angel. Chuck Palahniuk isn’t a drag queen or a figment of the imagination of a passive aggressive office peon.

Yet, they were all able to successfully write about it.

Great writers are tireless researchers. With a tool like the internet at your disposal, how could you not be? Gertrude, should she ever decide that she wanted to, could easily access videos, descriptions, fictional examples, and first-hand accounts of two girls doing the nasty in order to accurately describe the way her protagonist, Genevieve, touches her lover’s… you get the point.

Sure, it’s infinitely easier to write about the guy stocking grapefruit at the grocery store or to place your characters in your childhood backyard. But consistent regurgitation of people and places too well known is boring and will stunt your growth.