I’ve been thinking a lot about the general writing advice of “write what you know.”
I hear the advice given a lot on twitter and Facebook groups in response to inquiries from new writers. Most often it’s in reply to questions about writing to trends. “Write what you love. Write what you know.”
There’s something about it that bothers me though. I get it. I totally get that you can’t possibly write to trends because once you’ve written it, the trend is likely over. I also understand what is meant by suggesting that you embrace what you love and toss the rest.
There’s a lot of appeal to that.
However, if we are professional writers, we should be able to do better than simply writing about what we know. As writers, we should be able to write about things we don’t know or about things we don’t love. It takes effort. It takes research. It takes revision. But if you’re a writer, and you want to earn a living (or even get a pay check once in a while), you’re almost always going to be required to go out on a limb at some point and try something you’re not 100% in love with.
About six years ago, I decided to try my hand at nonfiction. I was awarded my first freelance work-for-hire project and it terrified me. It required me to put aside most of what I knew about creative writing, do a boat-load of research, and craft an accurate history book for the 4th grade reading level.
It was hard. That first one took so much time to pull together. But it rocked. And twelve contracts later, I wouldn’t be where I am in my writing career if I hadn’t accepted that very first assignment. It's given me confidence, it's given me a chance to work with a number of different editors, and it's given me credentials that I didn't have previously.
So, yes, write what you love. But leave room in your career to take a risk and write something that you don’t love and see where it takes you.