Research vs Making It Up!
I've been hard bashing writing rules recently, and this post concerns another one that I have a hard time reconciling to the way I actually write.
The rule is: "Write What You Know."
I have to call bullshit on that one too.
I really don't believe that any author writes what they know 100 percent of the damn time. If we did, we'd never utter the words "I need to research this" with glazed-over eyes and orgasming brain cells. We writers dig writing about shit we don't know because it gives us an excuse to do one of our favorite activities (besides writing and drinking coffee). READING!
And researching something for a story or novel is a great way to get some reading time in. Not that research is always fun. But it is necessary.
I think the "write what you know" rule just means to stick to those topics you are familiar with, because even if you have to research parts of it, you will have already begun your writing project from a place of familiarity, and therefore, comfort. Indeed, I have my doubts that writers, fiction writers anyway, ever really write about things they are not at least a little familiar with and that interest them.
I don't know anything about black holes, or much of the science about them, either (except for having read Stephen Hawkings book A Brief History of Time) but I may write about them someday. I will gather research on it and learn the basics of the science (research is important)and write something. Maybe I'll break a few rules along the way. It's fiction, after all. The point is that it should be okay for an author to write whatever the hell they want to, no holds barred, research or not. Write for the pure enjoyment of it, for the exercise! Now, if you write a story about black holes and get absolutely everything about the science wrong, you may not be able to get it published. And if you do, expect some grumbling from hard sci-fi enthusiasts. But if you want to write a story about a planet of giant chickens nestled in the core of a black hole, you should write that story. Hell, I may write that story for the pure fun of it.
Remember the heyday of science fiction in the 40s and 50s? Some of the best stories I've read from that period were the ones where the writers just made the science and everything up. Pure creativity...just add weird impossible planets and bizarre scary impossible alien monsters. Those stories were a joy to read. They were fun!
And in the end that's what all stories should be.
PS: This is an article I found but never had time to read before writing this post. It's a Publisher's Weekly article written by Andy Weir about doing research as a writer and writing about a topic he didn't know a lot about, namely the planet Mars. He talks about how research could only fill some of the gaps, and in the end he had to rely on "speculation" about how he thought a new energy for powering spaceships would evolve in the future. He made it up, but in a plausible way. That's great science fiction creative imagination at work.