I've probably ranted about this before, so you'll have to forgive me if seems like repetition, but one comment at the TAPS continuing drama workshop over the weekend is still rankling. One of the speakers suggested that emerging scribes should concentrate on writing what they know. That you shouldn't write a hostage story, for example, unless you've been held hostage. The speaker in question was trying to be helpful and in all other respects seemed an intelligent, passionate individual committed to making TV drama as good as it can be.
But I couldn't disagree with them more when it comes to only writing what you know. To me that's the ultimate betrayal of imagination, the worst kind of advice for people trying to find their way as creative individuals, to find their unique voice as writers. Let's face it, if you only write what you know, we would only ever read stories about the lives and experiences of writers. Surely we can be allowed to imagine? Yes, writing should have emotional truth at its heart.
But if you apply the write what you know philosophy, you straitjacket the writer. I've never been to space, so I can't write science fiction. I've never fired a gun, I've never murdered anyone, so that's crime gone as a genre. I've never had children, so I can never write about being a parent. I've never been a woman, or Jewish, or a soldier, or black, or Asian, or Oriental. I've never been to the future, I wasn't alive before the twentieth century.
I've never been to Japan or Pearl Harbour or San Francisco. I've never travelled through space and time, never beaten a person to death with my fists, never staked a vampire through the heart. If I'd only ever written when I knew, I wouldn't have a career. Wouldn't have 18 novels published, or a radio play broadcast.
So please, if somebody tells you only write what you know, ask them what they've written. Had they experienced everything they've written about? If so, they've lived one hell of a life or else they don't practise what they preach. Write what you know? No thanks. I'd like to use what talents and skills I've got to write something I didn't know I could. I like to imagine, as well as know.