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I'm a writer, a freelancer, a crafter, a nail polish mixatrix, a tea drinker, an unconventional life-liver, a journaling junkie, an introvert, a chronic-pain-sufferer, an idealist, a geek, a TV-lover. Welcome to my corner of the web!

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wednesday Writing Advice: Write what you know isn't quite right

If you have ever taken a writing class or read a writing book--or looked writing up on the web--or seen a movie about a writer--you've probably heard the phrase "write what you know", and people generally take it to mean if you're a sheep farmer, write about sheep farming, or something else equally as literal. It's generally thought of as being a short, snappy way of saying "write from your own experience only about stuff you're sure you can be authoritative about".

I say, that's not quite right.

Especially if you write speculative fiction--scifi, fantasy, horror, or any of their many crossovers and subgenres--you are going to have to go off into uncharted realms as far as personal experience goes. That's kind of the whole point of speculative fiction. And even if you're writing, say, historicals, unless you're born and raised in the time period you're writing about, and somehow found yourself transported to now*, you're kind of severely limited about what time frames you can write in if you follow this adage to the literal letter.

Here's what I think it really means: "Write what you understand." And you can understand things that you haven't experienced first hand. You can understand what it's like to be an underappreciated fifth child, if you are one, even if you're writing about someone only sort of human and living on a far-future space ship. You can understand loss and love and grief and anger and happiness and longing, no matter where your characters are. You can understand how the historical situation would have shaped a person's options and how those options would have shaped a person's personality. You can understand how to use the weapons we have today and what the trends in their creation are, so that you can extrapolate what they might be like in the future.

It means this: "Understand people, history, and how the two work together, and write about that, no matter where or when you're writing about". That's just not as snappy.

*If this is actually what happened to you, I bet you're surprised and confused! And I think you should be writing about time travel more than writing historicals, but that's just me.


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