I don’t feel like it is a stretch to say that every aspiring writer has heard this. Ironically, it usually comes from somebody who has never written anything more than a grocery list. I remember when I was a kid and I was showing an interest in writing, I believe it was my step-mother who told me this. Write what you know. At the time, I thought it was great advice. Why write about what you don’t know? I then began to write Westerns.
It shouldn’t really come as a shock to anyone who knows me. My mother and sister were both into horses and films depicting the Wild West (their go-to film wasn’t actually a film, but a miniseries called Lonesome Dove), my father had been a trapper in Southern California and knew a great deal about the American Frontier, and about the 3rd Grade I was introduced to an author that I still love and read to this day, and who also inspired me to write: Louis L’Amour. I was immersed in the Wild West, so I wrote about it. I wrote some pretty crazy stuff, but the first story I ever wrote wasn’t about the West. It was only a page, and I remember at the end I had one more word and I didn’t want to write one word on the back of the page, so I used a carat (does anybody know what a carat in grammar is anymore?) to fit the last word.
The first story I remember actually writing about was about a young prince who wanted so badly to fight in a battle as a knight, but his father wouldn’t let him. When war breaks out, the prince disguises himself as a knight and goes out and fights and conquers the enemy. I seem to remember me basing it off of a movie or something. It honestly sounds like the character of Eowyn in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, but I don’t think it was out then.
Since I’ve pratically bragged this bit of advice up, it doesn’t seem like I would have anything negative to say about it. Wrong. You can thank Louis for this, but as I continued to write from about 3rd Grade steadily into about Middle School, I started writing more and more about World War Two. In Middle School, I received for my Christmas gift from my uncle a Harry Potter notebook. At the time, I went to a Christian school, so I was uncertain how they’d feel if I carried around a notebook depicting a wizard. Even though most Christians I knew were head-over-heels for Gandalf. I covered it and went about my life. In this notebook, I began writing about a character whose brother dies in the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941.
I titled the story Rising Sun Fighters, because I had recently been playing Medal of Honor: Rising Sun on Xbox. I had played Medal of Honor previously and loved it, especially after I got the cheats. But I began this with no real research other than playing the video game. In other words, I had no idea what the hell I was writing about. I was very self-conscious about other people reading my work, and to top it off, my cousin mentioned one time that if I include you in my story, it meant I liked you. Too true. I often wrote people I liked (girls) into my stories. One time I tried to woo a girl by telling her this. It didn’t work.
While I do think for a novice writer telling them to write what you know is good, but not final. Because in the end, what you know is very limiting. I’m apart of several writing groups on Facebook, and one of them in particular is based on fiction writers. In this group there are research questions all the time, because even Google fails us. Writing what you know is a great start. I once worked on a story that had a Dragon Ball Z/Harry Potter/Fast and Furious mix into it. My main character was identical to Vin Diesel’s character and Harry Potter, who goes to a school to learn to become some great warrior. I don’t really know why I started it, but I had fun writing it. It even had a Draco Malfoy-type character.
For this reason, I think fandom is a terrific way to get started. You’re really into a show or something, write about. In writing what you know or what you love, you learn about characterization, plot, setting, all that good stuff. I never read a single thing about writing for the majority of my writing career. When I did start, about 2016/2017, I suddenly realized I already knew what they were saying. I learned by doing by exploring worlds that had already been tapped into.