Write What You Know? Pfffft to that!

Write only what you know?  I mean, write what “I” know???

I don’t think so.

A friend tells me he knows of a woman who writes about travel, makes a living from it and hasn’t set foot in most of the destinations she writes of. My kind of writer woman, that’s who she is.

Isn’t that what writing is all about and why writers such as Diana Gabaldon, to name just one of many,  (haven’t read her works, just know this from attending conferences where she was present/judging and learning about her extensive research from fans/friend/relatives) write so effectively about life in other centuries… well, I think it is.

Stephen King. Need I say more?

What good writing is about is not necessarily liking every single genre out there any more than one could enjoy every single genre of music. Nor is it about having the most education. Some of the most moving phrases I’ve ever read were issued by people with little or no formal education.

Call of the Wild suffered many rejections as have many other great works by brilliant minds before they were published. I believe good writing is about the gift of story, weaving a path people can follow, something that moves them to stay with you to the end of the journey.

Many writers have the gift of story and that is all they need. Good grammar, years of experience in the trenches, none of it will give you the gift of story. If you don’t know how to pull it out of yourself, no one will be pulled into it and it really won’t matter what you have to say. Readers, well, speaking for myself, have to feel something. Anything, joy, a kinship, sadness, understanding, anger, moved in some way by a feeling originating from what we write.

A lot of the time we are inhibited by fear. Fear of offending others, fear of making fools of ourselves. We just have to decide not to care about that. What kind of great works would be out there if everyone held back… isn’t that where “the gold” is… in letting it go, letting it flow out of ourselves… I believe it is. If people become ticked off about something I say, I cannot help it. That is part and parcel of laying yourself out there as a writer. I can’t change the opinions of others any more than I can fix their myopia. But I can lend fresh insights (annoying though they may be)  to something in their world. Occasionally. I think.

If I wrote only what I already know, it would be a very short page indeed compared to life and what is available to discuss or share with others. Not to mention, for me, the boredom factor.

If I can’t keep trying new writing genres or styles, why bother, that’s all part of the fun for me and why I knew I had to say I was Eclectic, Eccentric and always Earthy in my profile. I know me well enough to know pidgeon-holing myself would never work for me. I need the freedom to write a poem one day, a fictional story the next, an opinion piece or information sharing.

I need freedom, period.

Fiction, creative non-fiction, verse, song, story, real life experience, whatever the label, I can’t limit my output. It would be, to me, akin to trying to put a wine cork in your ear. Wouldn’t feel very good, would it?

One of the wisest writing instructors I ever studied under was a man named Bill Burns who said a couple of things that stuck with me long past his teachings:

1. You should be able to write in a boiler room.

2. You should be able to write about anything.

As one of the most dimensional writers I know, he did both himself and he was right. I am still learning to master the art of writing with lots of flurry going on around me so don’t know that I’ll ever truly achieve that one but that won’t stop me from trying. Nor will I stop writing about anything and everything that happens to breeze through my psyche.

It’s just who I am and what I do.

How about you? Are you more comfortable writing in one genre or style? Do you prefer quiet or are you one of the lucky few who can simply “tune out” chaos around them to write steadfastly, no matter what?

(c) Dec 1 2011 JAuroraMorealist

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24 thoughts on “Write What You Know? Pfffft to that!

  1. Great points, Aurora! Writers need freedom, the nature of creativity is spontaneous, erratic and chaotic. It’s not meant to be ordered into a neat box. The more freedom you give yourself the more creative you can become (at least I think so!). I don’t like to limit myself to one genre but I don’t really set out to write in a genre when I start a new story. I choose a new story with it’s own themes and explore it. I don’t try and restrict myself by saying ‘Oh no Ermi you can’t do that, it’s crime and not fantasy!’ or something silly. My writing development has leaped from genre to genre and I think that any great novel should be able to touch every genre at one point, even for a moment.

    For me, as one writer to the next, I think it’s about flowing with the story. Don’t get caught up with grammar, genre or style as you stated. The story will guide you. The genre is created FROM the story, the story shouldn’t be created FOR the genre. Grammar/style all comes down to editing. I’m not very good at editing but the thing is I can pay someone to do it. I can’t pay someone to give me a great story or feed me their creativity. That’s what’s important. Holding onto your imagination and letting it guide you.

    - Ermisenda Alvarez

    • Ermisenda! I have been missing your writing prompts and need to get my butt over to your pages pronto, lol. Love your last line “holding onto your imagination and letting it guide you.” There is freedom and creativity in abundance in that sentence. So glad you dropped by. Thanks for your always welcome feedback. Also glad you don’t restrict yourself, loving your mind and pages just the way they are :)

  2. I think a few minutes browsing my blog will convince the reader that there is no abiding style. This has nothing to do with any conscious decision or desire. The tagline is “Gifts from the Musey Lady and Me”. And she is at the helm, believe me. :)

    • I like that you let the muse guide you, that’s the nature of the artist in motion, whatever the genre. Luckily, with writing, we have so many to choose from, it’s a great medium. Thanks for swinging by with your comments, Ben :)

  3. To me “write what you know” is more about writing your internal truth. We don’t need to know everything about a subject to write about it (but in some instances it is probably good if you do a little research) but if we write from an honest place then our writing gets richer. I don’t know what it feels like to be a sadistic killer, but if I wanted to I could probably create a character who does, because I do know anger, frustration, and pain.

    Anyway, that wasn’t really your question. My writing habits depend on my mood I think. Some days I can tune everything else and ride on a wave of words. Some days every noise creeps into my consciousness and distracts me. All I KNOW for sure is sometimes I have to write.


    • What a great line, Lisa, “writing your internal truth.” That is the essence of expression in any medium, I think, but especially in writing. Agree writing grows richer from an honest place. There is an engaging depth to it that compels one to read on… well, this one, anyway, lol.

      I think I am a lot like you where some days I can’t take even the sound of someone warming their roaring car up outside and others, I hear nothing. Depends what I’m working on. Or how much sleep I’ve had, or not had, lol. Having to write is also a shared trait. I live to write as I live to breathe.

      Thanks for visiting, see your pages soon :)

  4. Because of this brain thing I have going on, I need peace and quiet to write. Ideas come all the time, but getting them down has to come when it’s quiet.

    I’ve dabbled in poetry and fiction, but have written what I know best–my life story. I think when authors or experts offer the advice, “Write what you know,” they are offering it to beginning writers who launch into perhaps an historical fictional novel and don’t do sufficient research to get basic facts about the era correct–clothing, food, laws, dialect, etc. Then the story seems to lack authenticity. If at least you start with what you know (not stay there, but start), then you hone your writing craft with a project that is easier to take on. You can focus on voice, tone, rhythm, dialog, technical elements, etc, without having to add the pressure of “is this authentic?” You know it is because you know it. After you feel confident in your writing, then branch out, do the research and have at it!

    How does a person write travel books without ever having gone to the places she’s writing about? Does she say that in her introduction? “I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about Paris, but I’ve never been there.” Would you buy that book? ;)

    • Hi, Lorna, thanks for swinging by with your thoughts and questions:)

      I don’t know how you consistently produce such fine work. I have a very wise friend our age who endured a brain hemmorrhage in her 30′s, contends with the fall out daily, migraines, left side paralyzed, she once played level 9 Royal Conservatory piano, no more piano, career managing hospitals gone and I can hear it in her voice when she’s having a less than optimum day. My older sister suffered a life changing aneurysm as well… so while I haven’t lived it, I sure have seen the effects of it and feel for anyone fighting the good fight forward.

      I agree with you on the points you make about writing your life story because that’s what works for you and you do it very well. I think you are correct about “write what you know” being advice for new writers because the more you learn and write, the more your confidence grows, too, just as you say.

      As for writing about places we’ve never been or centruies we never resided in, people do it well all the time or their books wouldn’t make it to the bestseller lists so I think it’s possible to be successful at it especially with so much data on the internet readily available to research.

      Personally, I have written about many things in the name of PR (volunteerism, real estate, interior design, hypnotherapy, childcare/parenting, domestic violence, sexual harassment, ski resorts, justice, communication, etc etc etc) yet I do not ski and have not been a parent. Still, I did childcare for years and did research my subject matter when paid to produce for their web pages, ads or whatever.

      So it is possible but I don’t think this woman wrote a book, I think she shops her articles out to websites and magazines as most of us have over the years whether on the “life of snails” for a children’s science magazine or pieces for women’s magazines, fictional works, etc to literary journals. The best example I can personally give is when I was lamenting that I did not know how to work a gay relationship into my story and a friend said, “love is love.” That did it. Instant perspective. I was able to finish the story.

      Would I buy that book? I think I already have. If I look at the bookshelves around me, there are men writing from women’s perspectives (Wally Lamb: She’s Come Undone), women writing from men’s perspectives (Carole Shields: Larry’s Party), as well as many best selling authors who wrote of other centuries/times and/or places they have never even lived in. I don’t read any Vampire works at all but Anne Rice did those well as do many others. It makes sense to me because writing well about something, having the gift of story doesn’t mean we must have lived it. Otherwise ghost writers would cease to exist and biographies would never sell. I think. LOL.

      It’s different for all of us, that’s all I know with any certainty and comfort is key. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t fit. I hope I was able to answer you as thoughtfully as you gave me your feedback (I think I blogged on my blog, lol). Thanks so much for sharing and asking your questions, wise woman, maybe someone else can offer more? See your pages soon :)

  5. Aurora,I dont know how you do it…u just say with such ease what many of us are dying to say but can never express so subtly!Fearless! ;)
    Sparky laurie
    PS: I know that every time I stop by there will surely be something interesting to chew on….

    • Glad you like! Fearless or as some might say, foolish, lol. Either way, it’s what I do. When I know better, I shall do better. I hope, lol. See your pages soon, Laurie, always enjoy the “lift!” :)

    • True, Elyse. One of the children I daycared (holy smokes, she’s 31 now) has her BA in history and is currently doing her Masters in Publishing. Research, research, research. It really does matter if you want to do produce a truly knowledgable work, no matter the subject. At least, that’s been my experience. Every time I’ve been asked to write something whether in the line of duty or freelance, I had to learn all about it. That’s what takes the most time, gathering and sifting, lol.

  6. A beautiful, inspiring post with a beautiful striking picture!
    I tend to write everything and nothing especially when I keep those manuscripts to myself: i.e in my random copybooks and my diary. I don’t think I might have a particular genre as my tastes varies a lot though I’ve noticed that I tend to go for the supernatural. Then I love when a book touches my feelings deep inside… that’s what is magic about writing – the writer is able to make you feel… to enable you to make a connection with the story, the characters and when the book is over, the reader feels such loss… I hope I can write like this too one day! ^^

    • Daphnee, if I could write like you do at 16, I know a few people would have felt like that by now in my life. Thanks for always taking time to slide by and read my stuff. Just keep growing your gift and Write On, you are an awesome writer with much to share with the world.

    • LMBO You are a riot, I really must get to your pages more often. Bogged in blog reading is what happens here, so many great minds!!! Thanks for swinging by to share my litter box, LOL See you soon :)

  7. I’ve never abided by the “write what you know” philosophy. The only restriction I put on myself in terms of what I write about is that the topic must interest and inspire me. If I’ve got “the two Is” down, the end product will be good. If I’m interested, I’ll research and learn what I need to know as part of the writing process. If I’m inspired, my imagination will take me places I’ve never actually been : ).

    • Well said! Your philosophy is one I share and adhere to whether I like it or not, lol. Just the way the creative process works for me. I’ve seen your imagination in motion and I love, love, love it. Always great reading your pages and thanks for reading mine, Pam :)

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