But Supposing I Don’t Know Anything?

I am a writer who came from a sheltered life. But a sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring comes from within.

– Eudora Welty

I can relate to that. As a sixteen year-old, I haven’t really had the chance to be exposed to the more daring parts of life. Though, as a pastor’s kid, and someone born into a family of utter lunatics, I have seen some of the nuttier parts. I can honestly say that I haven’t done anything daring enough to add to my writing chops. Now if you looked at all the stuff I’ve imagined doing, then it would be another story altogether. Also, the world would owe me many debts of gratitude, a Pulitzer, and perhaps a million or two. Sadly, imaginary exploits aren’t applicable.

If you go by the old “write what you know” advice, then both Eudora and I are out of luck as far as writing anything interesting goes. But is that actually true? I personally don’t think so. I do get what the adage means–and in a way, it’s true that being an expert in whatever you’re writing about does add depth, but I still disagree for several reasons. One of which being that I don’t know much just yet, and have no choice, but to write what I learn instead of what I know.

    1.   Half the fun of writing anything for me is having the excuse to read a zillion books about strange things. It’s rather nice to be able to walk into the library, pick up a copy of 101 Ways to Blow Up A House and be able to avoid arrest with three simple little words: “I’m a writer.” Also, most librarians tone down that laser glare reserved for teens who invade their sacred libraries if they know they’re aspiring writers.

I think knowing the history and the more obscure factoids about your particular topic can also be a big help, regardless of how much of an expert you are. Sure, you may have been the youngest kid on your Little League team, but do you know who invented baseball? What they were like? What gave them the idea? Any baseball fans probably do (I don’t), but you see the concept.

    2.  Being told by a real expert can be almost as good as being one yourself. Hearing about real experiences, the emotions that went with them, and how things really are, as opposed to how the books say it is. Typically, there’s a big difference. The recipe may say you can make creme brulee right the first time, but your taste-testers may not say the same.

3.  A little imagination goes a long way. Even if you can’t really research what color a tyrannosaurus was  or if you don’t actually know anyone who’s been shot in the knee, you can probably extrapolate (or more accurately, guess) something. I’m one of the lucky folk not cursed by fear of water, but the main character of my novel is. I am, however, terrified of heights, and have been to use the “getmeouttaherethisinstantordie” feelings I’m all to familiar with to describe what my dear charrie feels.

And that’s my opinion on “write what you know.” Any thoughts from the brilliant minds on the other side of the screen that I so dearly love to hear from?


Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “But Supposing I Don’t Know Anything?

  1. I am a twenty-two year old writer, and having gone through four years of higher education and attained my degree in Creative Writing, I feel I’m perfectly withing my bounds to say: the “write what you know” rules is a narrow law applied too widely.

    There are some things that it is very difficult to write about without having done. I personally would not write about skydiving, because I’ve never done it, and there’s nothing in my life that I can equate to it.

    But I think you’re right: the same way that you can take your feelings from your fear of heights and transpose them onto your character for her fear of water, you can extrapolate strange experiences from ones you’ve already had. We know what fear is, we know what pain is, we know what love is, we know what joy is. Those are really the things that we should pay attention to when we decide to “write what we know.”

    • Exactly. The whole idea of being limited to only the things you have experienced irks me, but in some cases (such as skydiving–which I shall never get to write about for obvious reasons) it’s warranted.
      Love the way you put that, by the way. I’d say your degree serves you well. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and comment. I really appreciate it.

  2. It’s no problem. It’s always a pleasure to stumble across another homeschooled writer.

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