• Write What You … No?

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in WBN News & Events     Comments 2 comments

    When seeking “how to” advice for creative writing (how to do creative writing? how to write creatively? how to create writing?), one tip invariably comes up: “Write what you know.”

    But what if “what you know” isn’t particularly exciting? To those of you whose day-to-day lives aren’t quite thrilling enough to be immortalized in writing, you are not alone.  The good news is, well, there are two pieces of good news.

    First, what you know might be more than you think. My initial short list of what I know consists mostly of where I grew up (Texas) and what I’ve been doing with most of my time (work, school, writing, and so on). I’ve recently realized that, with this list, I’ve been selling myself short. I also know about my interests, about my quirks, and various anecdotes, not to mention the interests, quirks, and anecdotes of my friends, family, coworkers, people who speak too loudly on buses or in coffee shops, etc.

    Second, what you know is not a static set of knowledge. It changes to encompass the things you learn. Cue example . . .

    A few years ago, I had a creative writing instructor who, upon our class’s repeated request, gave us one of his own stories to read and discuss. Among other things, the story involved a character interested in ornithology discussing birds he encountered in a South American jungle. I asked my instructor why he had chosen ornithology and what history he had with birds prior to writing the story.

    His response?

    “Not much.”

    Perhaps he saw an interesting bird through the window as he sat down to write, or maybe he’d had a latent interest in birds that was suddenly piqued by a random event. Either way, he wanted to write a story about ornithology so he learned about ornithology.

    With that in mind, I’d like to propose a change, or at least an addition, to the old “write what you know” bromide (are you listening, authors of how-to-write books everywhere?).  How about we encourage each other to “write what we learn” instead. It’s more interesting for writers, and, if my experience has taught me anything, for the readers.

    So, what do you think? Have you ever studied a new field or pursued an interest in order to write about it later?



    Michelle is currently a student at The University of Texas at Austin, where she is pursuing dual degrees in Business and in Plan II, an interdisciplinary liberal arts program. In addition to interning with WriteByNight, she spends her time writing short stories and editing just about anything she can.



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    Absolutely! I graduated with a degree of Master of Engineering Sciences in Electronics (motherboards are NOT very exciting to look at), so I didn’t know much in the fields of linguistics (to construct a language) or how cultures work, or planetary sciences like geology, for example. I had to study a bit of aerospace engineering to design ships, etc. And even fell in love with astrophysics :D I’m writing science fiction, so there is plenty of room for world building. And I have a background for many professions I can choose for my characters. So I believe it is necessary… Read more »

    Diana Ligaya

    I write non-fiction by day and fiction by night. I do subscribe to the the “write what you know” adage, especially when it comes to non-fiction (otherwise it turns to a chore really quickly!) but I’m also fond of the corollary “write what you love. for fiction. I figure that’s the beauty of fiction, to explore and extrapolate on what we may or may not already know but we want to know. My genre of choice is science fiction; obviously, I’m not going to be taking directly from my own knowledge base or personal experiences when I’m writing about hacking… Read more »

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