Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Know It All

I believe the worst piece of advice ever given to any writer is ‘write what you know’. It makes me angry just hearing it. I will not be confined to the limits of what I know. How did Tolkien know about Middle Earth and Hobbits? How did Stephen King know the monster in your closet had claws and long dripping fangs?

They didn’t.

Because if you want to be truly great, then you should write what you love, what you dream, or whatever the hell calls to you from the dark corners of your mind.

I don’t consider myself an expert except when it comes to common sense and this smacks of stupid. I know about being an accountant but I’m not going to write about it. Unless it’s an accountant who finds a doorway into an alternate world in the supply cabinet. Using familiar elements from your life to enrich a story is one thing but please for love of the written word…write what you DON’T know.

9 comments:

  1. Considering I don't know much, if I only wrote what I knew, it would be a very short book.

    Instead, I prefer to make sh*t up. :)

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  2. It is a rather limiting statement, isn't it?

    Good rant. :) And I know rants!

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  3. Writing what you know is pedantic. Writing what you don't know is exploration. And who doesn't want to find an undiscovered country?

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  4. I wouldn't say it's necessarily wrong - it depends on how you mean 'know'. For example, all authors should know human nature. There's a famous author out there who writes fantasy but all his female characters are cardboard and horrendously written. He doesn't know women, he really shouldn't have written about them. He could've easily pulled a Tolkien, and just kept them out of the story. I know my dragons. I know my kings. I don't, however, know the mechanics of medieval weaponry. So I should either learn it or not write about it, because ignorance is bad in literature. :)

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  5. I think the idea of 'write what you know' mostly applies to realistic fiction. The most authentic writing comes from experiencing the situation first-hand. However, there's nothing a little (or a lot of) research can't fix. I can see both sides of the argument.

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  6. Hello? Perfect post! I know very little but imagine quite a bit.

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  7. Preach, Marsha! LOL. It's all about taking risks, isn't it? I don't know squat about what I'm writing for my second book! It makes it much more challenging (if brings on slight headaches) But I like to challnege myself. :o)

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  8. I think we maybe START from the place we know. And elements of what we know work their way into our books. But my books are not my history, word for word. Something about some of the characters may be taken from my life experiences...and if I'm writing about grown-ups they might have careers that I'm familiar with...but that doesn't mean everything about the story comes from my life. If that makes sense!

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It helps to know I'm not just talking to myself.