Posted by: michellemuldoon | September 14, 2010

“Write What You Know”

It’s the most common piece of advice we all get when we admit, “I want to write, but I don’t know what to write about”.

I’m having a little trouble writing right now, and so, as I look blankly at my latest script, “Who’s Got Wendell Finster”, that little piece of advice, “write what you know”, popped into my head.   The truth is, I always hated hearing it. I thought that if I was to exercise my imagination and write fiction, wouldn’t I need to suspend my dependence on what I know, and embrace something completely unknown, but imaginable? 

My dislike for the phrase really reached its peak after making my short film, “Potluck”.  I made a chick flick pot film. I like to say, if your Momma had a favorite pot film, it would be mine. There are no stoner dudes or daisy dukes in the film.  It’s a whole new way to look at quilting.

The problem is, people who see the film make assumptions about my recreational habits. I try to explain that I never touch the stuff, and that I live in Vancouver and it’s pretty much an accepted part of living here, but that doesn’t stop them. (I don’t get it, they never ask if I quilt.)  So, my response would be to ask, “If I made a movie about a mass murderer, do you think I’m basing that on personal experience, too?” 

Here’s what I’m saying…  I doubt Steven Spielberg knew a funny-looking little alien in desperate need of a decent mani/pedi (E.T.), or that  M. Night Shyamalan was in the habit of seeing dead people (The Sixth Sense), or that Paul Haggis is an expert at parkour and practices on cranes every weekend (Casino Royale).

I know, I digress, but here’s the thing. I think we should be telling people to “write what they dream of”, “write what they hope for”, or “write what fascinates them.” I think we should be telling people that if you want to write, go beyond what you know, and embrace whatever your imagination can conjure up.  To me, freeing your thoughts from what you know, and embracing all that you could know, is far more helpful.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to write about a bunch of smart aleck teens. It’s hard to believe I know anything about that, isn’t it?

PS: I know the picture has nothing to do with the post, but I like creativity in all its forms, and THAT is really creative.



  1. I’ve also had mixed reactions to the phrase “write what you know” but then I had an explanation that it means to write what your values are, write from memories that have meant something, and to write what your point of view is in life.

  2. Although I don’t write, I’m married to a writer, and while pondering what is it that I might write…I like the idea of “write what fascinates you”. That should be advice to everyone: do what fascinates you. Whether is writing, film-making, cooking, teaching, banking…you will always continue to grow if you do what fascinates you.

  3. Jason, that’s a really great way to look at it. Thank you. And Junie… wise words, indeed.


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