Mitchell Points Out the Limits of a Writing Cliche

Novelist David Mitchell was featured on the San Francisco Chronicle’s webpage and he pointed out the limitations inherent in one of writing’s most beloved sayings:

“‘Write what you know’ will only get you so far,” Mitchell says. “You need to write what you can imagine, write what you can research about, write what you can pretend to know.”

He raises an interesting point that we should all consider in our work. While there isn’t a thing in the world wrong with only writing what you know, I believe Mitchell’s point is a good one in that we shouldn’t place artificial boundaries around our work. Or our imaginations.

Periodically take a chance with your work. Sure, maybe you’re a Raymond Carver type writer who focuses on the hard scrabble lives of coal miners. I’m not saying you need to put all your energies into a science fiction novel about purple unicorns. But don’t fence in your ambitions either.

Always remain open to where the writing process will take you, however different it may seem.

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