Friday, February 28, 2020

Don’t Write What You Know

Since the 2019-2020 school year marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay originally appeared on October 14, 2009.

I know lots of things. I know how to make my husband a sandwich just the way he likes it. I know how to wash windows so they don’t streak and how to make “hospital corners” when I change the sheets on a bed. I even know how to clean a toilet and sort my trash properly at the transfer station (a.k.a. the dump). 

But I certainly don’t want to write a book about any of these chores. I’d be bored, and so would my readers. 

That’s why it really bugs me when teachers tell kids to write what they know. I write books about science because I love it. I am passionate about the natural world, and I want to share its wonders with children. Look at your favorite book, the best piece of writing you can think of, and I guarantee you’ll see the author’s passion shining through. It’s what fuels great writing.

That’s why I tell kids to write what they care about. This generates descriptions of fire trucks and reports about Barbie dolls and BMX racing. Now I couldn’t care less about any of these topics, but I do care about teaching kids to enjoy writing. And I want them find ways to communicate ideas successfully.


  1. I love this post. I feel exactly the same way. I write about what I'm interested in, and I learn so much. Thank you!