Do you always have to write about what you know?

Is that an overrated principle about writing fiction? I recently showed an in-progress short story about abortion to friends of mine. One told me to focus on writing what I know.

Not to say I’m him, but I recall that Stephen King has written both Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, even though he’s never been on death row or even in prison.

I think the solution is this: write about what you know but also leave open the possibility of writing what interests you. If what interests you is outside your realm of expertise, then consult an expert and interview them.

If, for example, I were to write an article about an African-American man with an amazing penchant for repairing decrepit vehicles back in Texas in the 1930s, I’d speak to these people–my father, a retired mechanic, a man named Steve who has an auto shop and is literally a walking encyclopedia when it comes to engines, and perhaps African-Americans or historians who can give me insight on what it was like being black in Texas back in those days.

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A Day in the Life of a Reporter

Sometimes I wish people could see what we do at the newspaper on a daily basis. I love the job, but there are times (especially when we’re on deadline) when things can get extremely hectic. In fact, just today the editor had to kill an article and replace it with something else. While we were in the process of laying out the paper.

Still, there are those who will wonder why we didn’t publish this or get that in. Simple: sometimes things fall through the cracks because we’re given notes or things while we’re in the middle of juggling 10 assignments at once. Sometimes it comes down to too many stories already and not enough space for it all. Think of it like taking a gallon of milk and trying to pour it into an 8-ounce glass. What will happen? Most of the milk will overflow and spill out.