Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Do All Writers Write “What They Know”?


There are so many “rules” for writers—so many dos and don’ts—so many restrictions on creativity… 

Certainly, each writer discovers their own set of Writing Principles and, when decent authors share their principles, other writers can benefit.

So, what about that ancient piece of advice, Write What You Know?

Does a crime novelist have to go out and kill people to abide by the advice?

Should a romance writer dive into multiple flings?

A sci-fi writer visit other planets?

It all seems to hinge on the word “Know”

Perhaps, for the moment, I could amend the ancient advice to say, Write What You Somehow Know Enough About To Make up A Plausible Story.

I was prompted to write this post because of an article in The New York Times Sunday Book Review—‘Write What You Know’ — Helpful Advice or Idle Cliché?

The article focuses on responses from Zoë Heller and Mohsin Hamid; yet, even though Zoë has much good to say, I’ll focus on Mohsin’s comments:

“It may be that the DNA of fiction is, like our own DNA, a double helix, a two-stranded beast. One strand is born of what writers have experienced. The other is born of what writers wish to experience, of the impulse to write in order to know.”

“…I also write about things I haven’t experienced. I’ve written from the point of view of a woman, of a global surveillance system, of a writer who is being beheaded. I write these things because I want to transcend my experiences. I want to go beyond myself.”

“A human self is made up of stories. These stories are rooted partly in experience, and partly in fantasy. The power of fiction lies in its capacity to gaze upon this odd circumstance of our existence, to allow us to play with the conundrum that we are making ourselves up as we go along.”

I encourage all devoted writers to go read the whole NYT article

I also encourage you to watch the video below, since Mr. Hamid calls his presentation, “I don’t believe in reality”.

He gives three tantalizing reads from his novels.

He discusses how writers are always on a search for how to express

Also, how reader reactions can inform the author about the meaning of what they wrote.

And, some penetrating insights on Muslims and Islam.

He discusses the transformation of books into movies, politicized religion, monetizing anxieties, plus delves into the relationship of storytelling, psychology, and the Self


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