Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Write What You Know

Yes, I know you writers must hear it a lot.

Write what you know.

Cliched, perhaps, it is true.

However, I always would toss this certain phrase aside. It was limiting to me.

I would hear the version, "Write about personal experiences. Write about things you know. Real life stuff, blah blah blah."

I wanted to write about the Middle Ages, or fantasy, other worlds, other things that I've NOT experienced or know about (not factoring in research and all...). So I tended to brush aside and ignore this piece of cliched advice, because the things I know just aren't that interesting. 
I wouldn't want to make a story out of my personal experiences. I don't want to write about ballet, violin, or homeschooling, per se. Not really...... (I'm not a contemporary fan generally speaking anyway.).

And I wondered if me not writing what I knew about meant that my writing "wasn't okay."

But just today, I had a really random, really good thought.

That (sometimes) dreaded phrase, write what you know, can be taken in more ways than one. (And, there's something being left out of the equation. )

The things your characters go through can come from your own personal experience, but in a different environment than the contemporary world.

Say, you know how it feels to have to train ridiculously hard for something, or to be lonely and have no friends, or you know how it feels to be afraid of something.

You can apply those emotions and personal experiences to your story. Your characters can go through emotions and ordeals you went through, even if your story may be historical or science fiction or fantasy.

Of course, "write what you know" can be writing about things similar to something in your life. Say you do theater work, you could write something about plays and theater-ness..... or if you're a waitress or CIA agent, you could write what you know about those things.

After all, Tolkien derived much in Middle Earth from his experiences as a soldier, fighting in WWI. I know that much of my main character's personal struggles, I've derived from my own.

But it doesn't always mean that.

A writer doesn't have to experience some things to write about them. George Lucas didn't experience having to fly around in an X-wing and blowing up the Death Star to write about it. As far as I know, anyway.... and Sharon Hinck didn't have to step through a portal and save the world to write about Susan Mitchell, again, as far as my knowledge goes....

But that isn't all there is.

But while writer's need to be told, "Write what you know," they also need to be told:


Because writers are creators. We create people, places, scenarios, food! And just like writing what you know is part of the process, so is creating.

You don't have to experience something to know it. Writer's carry things in their hearts and their minds; things they know, deep down. It's part of why, and how, we write. There are just things we know, things want to create and tell a story about. Stories, characters, images, emotions, things like that. 

George Lucas created X-wings. Sharon Hinck created the world on the other side of the portal.

And while I'm sure they both drew from personal experience and knowledge as well, they created. They created the things that didn't exist previously, stuff they didn't learn in school or at work.

Just 'cause you're told to write what you know, doesn't mean that's all you should do. Create, too, please!   Creating is part of the joy of writing.

Now, if the rest of you already knew this, then I'll just resign myself to being the slowest person on the planet and hang up this whole blogging job.

However, if you found that the phrase "write what you know" was somehow limiting or constricting to you, then I hope this helps somehow.

Don't just write what you know. But don't just create, either. It takes both.

Okay... did any of that make sense?


Everyone's Favorite Composer said...

I'll just pretend like that made sense... Naw, I understood it perfectly. Nicely said.

Lainie said...

Well done! And you're doing a fine job of practicing what you preach.


Anonymous said...

Well said, my friend, well said! I enjoyed this post very much. :D

Princess of Endor said...

Well put! While I am writing about a theatre, I'm also having to make up another world as I go. That will prove interesting.

Kim said...

I love it Miss Abby. Exactly right:-)

Amaranthine said...

Yay! Though a bit of research for historical never hurt. :) Great post. And we're still tied...(snicker snicker).

Amaranthine said...

OH, and there was this one dude who decided to only write what he knew. So he had his wife actually tie him up and put him in a car trunk and drive over bumps. He wrote a very descriptive story and it won some prizes, I think.

Leia Skywalker Organa said...

Wow! I love this post! It really helped me! Thank you!

Amaranthine: Seriously??? =P LOL!

-Leia <3

Georgianna Penn said...

All of that made perfect sense and all I can say is... AMEN! I had this idea down in my head for sometime now, but the thoughts hadn't yet formed into something plausible. Thank you for doing that for me. ;)

Anonymous said...

Great post!! Very well put. This post was really helpful. =)

-Barriss :-D

A Servant of the King said...

Well done! I was actually thinking about writing a post about the exact same thing just yesterday, but you put it very well, so there's not really any thing for me to add! lol :)

Star-Dreamer said...

Ah, so very, very true. And here's another thought on the matter: write what you like... OR more precisely what you like to read. Because chances are, if you really enjoy reading that genre, you might enjoy writing it as well. I love to read science fiction and fantasy, and what do you know... that's what I write too! :) 'Course, I like to read christian supernatural thriller and mystery sometimes too... but not as much as science fiction and fantasy. I guess you could say, I know fantasy better so I know what it entails better, and thus it is easier for me to write. :D

Just a thought, anyway.