Wednesday, July 25, 2012


academic,assignments,books,children,classrooms,education,females,girls,kids,papers,people,persons,schools,sheets,students,writers,writingsAs an aspiring writer, I've heard over and over, "Write what you know." Now, I'm hearing, "Write what you don't know." Which leaves me unclear on what to write. 

Only writing what you know works great if you are writing an autobiography or non-ficition. But what about science fiction or fantasy? How would we have ever met the wonderful Aslan if C.S. Lewis had to find a talking Lion before he could write about one? Or if J.R.R. Tolkien  had to experience the corruption of a  Stoor Hobbit before he penned the evil Gollum?

American Author Nathan Englander, says that "Write what you know" is one of the best, and most misunderstood, pieces of advice ever. The concept of writing what you know paralyzes aspiring authors into thinking that authenticity in fiction is a thinly veiled autobiography. Writing what you know is perfect if you grew up fast, on the hard streets of New York, and you want to write about survival. But what if you grew up on the beaches of Southern California? Are you supposed to only write about the perfect way to catch a wave?

According to Englander, "Write what you know” isn’t about events. It’s about emotions. Have you known love? jealousy? longing? loss? Have you ever wanted something so bad you might have killed for it? If that is the case, it doesn't matter whether your story takes place in Narnia or the  Valley of Anduin, – if you’re writing what you know, your words come alive. 

Muse For Today: How do you tap into "what you know" to write?

8 comments:

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

I think it means bring your own life into the writing. Writing what you know...you can always spend time doing research and learning about new places, times, and people.

Michelle said...

I often take the end result and imagine what people have gone through to get to that point. Even though I don't know the details.... I know the end result. Great post. :)

Avantika Chitturi said...

I'm a fantasy writer and hopefully one day I'll be a fantasy author. Writing what I know is out of the question but recovering emotions or characters from real-life experiences isn't.

I tap into it subconsciously. Interestingly enough, when I try to write a scene an actually moment from my past flashes before my eyes.

Cherie Reich said...

I definitely agree with what Englander said. Writing what you know is more about emotions, and I would say uses all the senses as well. It's not necessarily about events.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

I agree Sharon, a little bit of real life, and a lot of research, makes a story come to life.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Thanks Michelle. What a great idea to get the beginning from the end. Sounds like a blog post to me.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Best wishes to you, Avantika on transitioning from fantasy writer to author. I think the subconscious is a great resource for writing.

Scribbles From Jenn said...

Thanks Cherie. I too believe Englander is on the mark, and so are you regarding using all the senses. Writers often leave out smell and taste, but they add another layer of depth to make a story come alive.

Share this: