Friday, October 9, 2009

"Write What You Know" means learn more


Monday, Wednesday and Friday are topic days, whereas Tuesday is reserved for interesting links and Thursday is my official word count progress day. The weekends I get to think only on fiction. I am not sure why I sidetracked, but thought it was worth mentioning.

Today, I chose to discuss an ancient writing advice that is handed out to every newbie and I guess it pretty much stands next to “Read, read, read” and “Write, write, write”. Namely:

"Write what you know"

Todd Newton discussed this one, accenting on writing a character in the opposite gender, but I was inspired by author Laura Anne Gilman on Twitter, who tweeted:

"Write what you know" means learn more.

I saw this re-tweeted by Tim Lebbon, who added ‘bloody well said’ and I have to agree with him, because otherwise literature no matter what the genre wouldn’t progress at all.

But before I get to the matter at hand, I propose a detour to analyze what this popular advice slash mantra implies. At first glance this is as obvious as it goes. A mechanic, who desires to publish mainstream, might be compelled to put his professional knowledge to good use, while a doctor or a nurse would have no issue at all use their years of experience as a weapon and advantage, while penning a medical thriller.

But the advice isn’t intended for the applicable knowledge given to us from life, but the breed of story we want to discuss. If a novice writer at the beginning of his/hers career has spent his whole life being fascinated by the coming-of-age traditional fantasy epic to the point he/she is intimate with the ins and outs and developments in the genre, then it’s advisory to start there. It’s exactly our interests, hobbies and inner culture, which program our starting parameters.

Although well intended I think that at one point this advice stops being helping and limits the writer’s development. To return to the alchemist analogy, I will say it’s similar to do varying interpretations on the same recipe with the same elements. A beginner alchemist knows only a limited number of ingredients and although it would be accepted to work with those elements until he/she practices other skills, it would be pointless to produce distorted echoes.

But what do? The advice stated, sticking to well traded grounds.

I have two propositions.

One: observe, learn and expand your own horizons. The Internet has countless web pages dedicated to various topics. To give myself as example I spent an hour researching homemade explosives for a 500 word flash fiction and I also spent a few days on bipolarity for another short story. For “Lunar Hues” I studied the various mid-phases and so on goes the list. Learning to write what you don’t know comes from reading those that do, especially when that means crossing into a different genre. As an alchemist one must observe nature, where most ingredients grow and see how the wildlife reacts to them as well as study those alchemists a few ranks up the ladder.

Two: write what you don’t know and boldly experiment. There is that risk that the cauldron might explode upon you vomiting something unreadable and befuddling, but in the end one might stumble upon a find. As an example here I would give with much detest Meyer, who has never read anything about vampires, which translates into not understanding the myth and the story involved with these mythological creatures and yet she earns millions from sparkling vampires. It’s pretty much how my relationship with mainstream and the romances is. I am curious to experiment with them, but without getting too far from my comfort reading zone.