Quotes / Write What You Know

Ricky Gervais: "I was always told, doing English O levels, 'write about what you know', and it's so true. It's just so much easier t-"
Stephen Merchant: "Yeah, that's why you want our next project to be you as a man locked in a futuristic prison."
Ricky Gervais: "Well, yeah, I've been - it's called 'Brain Jail"

"I canít switch it off. Over the course of two full summers spent people-watching and consciously tilting an ear towards the conversations of strangers, Iíve infected myself with an instinctive, unstoppable urge to be constantly gathering material while Iím at the beach. Like a sleeping dog who twitches upright at the rustle of a pocket, Iím in a permanent state of alert, never fully able to relax, and helpless to stop my inner voice from rambling off pretentious internal narrations about the things going on around me... The problem is that once you become aware of it, just like Roddy Piper putting on the sunglasses in They Live, itís clear that thereís material everywhere you look, and you canít unsee it. The world and its inhabitants and their actions are just too awful and beautiful to go unrecorded, even if youíre not going to stick it in a book."

In writing classes, I was frequently told, "Write what you know." It's an adage writers often hear, and it left me confused. Write what I know? How do I do that? I'm writing fantasy. I can't know what it's like to use magic - for that matter, I can't know what it's like to be female, but I want to write from a variety of viewpoints.
As I matured in skill, I began to see what this phrase meant. Though in this genre we write about the fantastic, the stories work best when there is solid grounding in our world. Magic works best for me when it aligns with scientific principles. World Building works best when it draws from sources in our world. Characters work best when they're grounded in solid human emotion and experience.
Being a writer, then, is as much about observation as it is imagination.
You can't always write what you know - not exactly what you know. You can, however, write what you see.
Brandon Sanderson, The Emperor's Soul, Postscript

Everybody gets told to write about what they know. The problem with many of us is that at the earlier stages of life we think we know everything — or to put it more usefully, we are often unaware of the scope and structure of our ignorance. Ignorance is not just a blank space on a person's mental map. It has contours and coherence, and for all I know rules of operation as well. So as a corollary to writing about what we know, maybe we should add getting familiar with our ignorance, and the possibilities therein for ruining a good story.
Thomas Pynchon, Slow Learner, Introduction.

In the story the outer rim of that devilry had to be shown touching the life of some ordinary and respectable profession. I selected my own profession not, of course, because I think Fellows of Colleges more likely to be thus corrupted than anyone else, but because my own is the only profession I know well enough to write about.
C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, Introduction.

Bad books on writing tell you to "WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW," a solemn and totally false adage that is the reason there exist so many mediocre novels about English professors contemplating adultery.