They Say

First, an update.  My mother pointed out a continuity error in Chapter 1 of Grotesque that has now been fixed.  What’s great is it actually reinforces a couple points that I’ve made.

One – that in Fantasy, you make up your own rules, and are at liberty to change them.  The error I made was very small – the fireplace in Serrafiel’s room is described as having no wood in it, but then later his master lights a fire in it, and suddenly there’s wood there.  This happened because I originally decided that magical fire would not need anything to burn.  But as I got farther in the book, those rules no longer worked.  For reasons that I don’t care to go into, it became necessary for magical fire to need wood.  So I went back and changed it so that the fireplace in Serrafiel’s room contained wood.  What I did not realize was that I’d mentioned the lack of wood in two places, but I only changed it once.

This leads me to point number 2, which is this: At some point in my blogging history, I talked about mistakes that writers make.  I know that I talked about forgetting people or objects are there when you’re writing, and I think this falls under that category.  The post to which I am referring is this one: https://writebooksright.wordpress.com/2011/05/22/magic-has-the-opposite-effect-in-books/ What’s funny is that I never noticed the discrepancy, despite rereading that chapter several times.  But it’s fixed now, so the crisis has been averted.

Moving on…I mentioned that I was going to talk about this in my last post, and I will stay true to my word.

They say, “Write what you know.”  Well, I don’t know who “they” are, but if I ever meet them, I’m going to punch them right in their collective smugness, which I’m now convinced is a punchable organ.  I shall explain why.

Here is a list of things I know:

–          My name

–          Sarcasm

–          How to talk (usually without stopping)

–          Psychology, via courses in high school and college

–          Horses (How to ride them, and some random facts)

–          English, Japanese, Spanish

–          How to read/write Hebrew and Farsi

–          Judaism

–          Literary analysis

–          What it is like to be female/Things associated with being female (e.g. periods, feelings, feelings about periods, and feelings about people who think my emotions are linked directly to my periods)

–          Video games (Mostly of the Nintendo variety)

–          The capital of California

–          How to drive

–          Baseball

–          The lyrics to Fireflies by Owl City

–          Cooking/baking

–          The names of all the kids from Ms. Frizzle’s class in The Magic School Bus. (Dorothy Ann, Phoebe, Wanda, Keesha, Arnold, Carlos, Ralphie, Tim)

–          I love chocolate

–          I hate broccoli

–          Grammar (Usually)

–          How to make lists of things

–          How to type

–          How to navigate an airport

–          Which fork is for the salad

–          How to stop a list

It could go on.  I promise you that I know many other things.  But long as that list is, it is infinitesimal in comparison to the list of things I don’t know.  Here is a brief sample of the things I don’t know:

–          What it’s like to have magical powers

–          What chocolate-covered crickets taste like

–          What it is like to be male

–          The capital of Wyoming

–          Where I’ll be in twenty years (and the future in general)

–          What I ate for breakfast on March 19th, 1994

–          How to shoot a gun (What a relief, right?)

–          French, German, Arabic, Swahili, Welsh, Sanskrit (among others)

–          What kind of tea George Washington preferred to drink

–          The exact number of stars in the sky

–          The lyrics to Last Friday Night by Katy Perry (although I’m pretty sure the phrase “Last Friday night” makes it in there somewhere)

–          What causes laughter (Looking for a more scientific answer than “Jokes.”)

–          Why people major in Philosophy

–          What it’s like to be a chinchilla

–          What it’s like to be in love

–          How to build a windmill

–          How to pilot an aircraft

–          How old Leonardo da Vinci was when he died

–          The names of all the elements in the Periodic Table (Oxygen, Carbon, Hydrogen, and Iron are in there somewhere)

–          All the species of butterfly that exist in the world

–          Your grandmother’s maiden name

You might have noticed that in the first list, I didn’t mention writing as something I know.  That’s because this blog, and specifically this post, is all about how to “know” writing, so I figured I’d leave it out.

You might also recall that there is another common expression that contradicts the “Write what you know” mantra.  Ever heard someone say, “You could fill a book with what that guy doesn’t know”?  That bears some thinking on, doesn’t it?

My point in listing all of these things is that you can’t possibly limit yourself to writing “what you know.”  I think it’s insulting to even suggest that you should.  The whole point of creative writing is that you get to write about stuff you don’t know, oftentimes stuff you never could know – like what it feels like to break a man’s spine with your mind.  To say that you should stick to what you know is saying that you’re not good enough at being creative to write convincingly about something you don’t know.

That said, it is important to remember that what you know can be very useful, like a supplement to your writing that makes it awesome.  Take emotions for an example.  If your main character is a fairy princess who just saw her entire kingdom fall into ruin, chances are, you’re not writing from experience.  But here’s something you might have experienced – sadness.  Or desperation.  Grief.  You can use those things, find those feelings, and insert them into your writing.  Without the emotion, it’s just description, and you can do that easily enough.  You don’t have to have seen a fairy kingdom falling into ruin to be able to call up an image of it in your head, and then write down a description of that image.  It’s the emotion, the feeling, that makes that image meaningful.  That’s what I think of when I hear someone say “write what you know.”

And yes, if you read through my books, you’d see that I have inserted a lot of myself into them.  Like my love for horses.  That shows up a lot.  There are also a few characters that speak Spanish or Japanese, even one that is Iranian and speaks Farsi.  I do that because it’s fun, and because it does help guide my writing if I have little things like that thrown in there that I have some personal connection to.  So that’s what I’ve got to say about that.

Word of the Day: Platitude (n) – a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially one uttered as if fresh or profound.

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1 Comment

Filed under books, writing

One response to “They Say

  1. Yay for common sense! This post reeks of it.
    They should change the saying to write what you enjoy.

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