Writing what you know Vs knowing what you write

There’s an old saying: Write what you know.

This has always bugged me a little. Write what you know? I want to write everything and, excluding a period in my teenage years, I’ve consistently come to the conclusion that I cannot possibly know everything. So. Either my goal was unachievable, or someone, somewhere had their wires crossed.

We grow older, as we do, and we simply grow. We realize that the world is made of subtlety. There are very few sharp edges in nature, as everything is made of atoms and molecules, things with mass and volume, however minuscule either of those measurements may be. Something cannot truly be pointed or edged because a point and edge end in a ‘point’ a theoretical specification of location which has a single x, y, z measurement and no mass or volume. To the best of my knowledge, nothing physical can be described as a ‘point’. So the point to my argument. There are no edges, no single differentiation between the supposed ‘black and white’. There are always gradations. We have only to look close enough to see their subtle natures.

We cannot take ‘write what you know’ literally. If we did, science fiction and fantasy could never happen. And if it still happened… I’d be worried about the mental health of the authors. To truly write what you know would be to limit yourself to your life and what you’ve experienced. I’m sure the originator, whoever it is, didn’t mean ‘write only what you know’ but the words still hit young authors’ ears and create a strange block.

I’d like to clear it up.

Writing what you know is about linking your creative to your chronological. It means that whatever you write, whatever character you have in your mind, make sure you know that character can exist. Make sure that character and even the situations are as believable as they can be to you.

A lot of inexperienced authors lie to themselves. They choose the visual over the reaction. They’ll have their coward character suddenly leap into action with no emotional or physical trigger to break the cycle of inaction that had been established for fifty three chapters. Or they’ll have the one hundred year old vampire pose as a high school student, even though he’s posing as a senior and could very well be seen as an adult which would lead to a simpler, less scheduled life. That same 100 year old vampire lets himself get close to a random girl in his class… a class he’s been in for a while  without latching his bloodsucking claws into someone else. But, no, some inexperienced writers choose the four book series of ridiculousness rather than sitting down and thinking… Would Edw  my character REALLY do this? Those people write what they want, not what they know… or they just don’t know enough.

We, as fiction writers, have the ability to transfer what we know on anything we want. We know reality, it is our job to create it in a fictional, unreal place. We have a certain power and that power is exemplified by ‘write what you know’. That is our spell and we must cast it right.

Knowing what you write is what most people think of when they hear ‘write what you know’. Knowing what you write is an exact knowledge of the scenes in your story to the point of having lived them.. Knowing what you write is generally for non-fiction. It can be for fiction, as it’s easier to transfer absolutely real things to other absolutely real things in general, literary fiction. Beyond that, it’s almost always useless.

If you have any comments or questions, go ahead and spout ’em!

– Aaron Shively


About Aaron Shively

I have been working as a freelance writer and artist for the last decade. In that time, I've done everything from ghostwriting to toy design and everything in between. I am currently working on a novel series called 'Myth' which has held my attention for the past sixteen years. I have spent my time developing the world, character and story and am now ready to funnel all the preliminary material into the manuscript of the first installment, 'of Men and Monsters' Bookmark & Share

Posted on 05/15/2011, in Personal, Philosophy, Questions, Rantings, Uncategorized, Updates and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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