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Mynoris

Write What You Know

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This is good advice.

But not necessarily the way it was intended.  Usually it's seen as write the things you know from reality.  Don't use things you have no experience with.  Now, that is terribly unhelpful to fantasy and sci-fi writers who, by definition, have to write about things that we have no experience with since they don't exist, or don't exist yet.

But we can still use this as a useful catch-phrase for writing, at least in a first draft.

So here it goes: Write What You Know.

You have a story idea in your head.  Write that down because you know you have the idea.  Don't worry about things that you don't know yet.  If you haven't decided what technology your world has, or how big the country is that your story takes place in, don't sweat it.  Write what you do know.  Keep that pen, or those fingers, writing the things that you already have in your head.  Write them until you don't have any of those things left.  Then you can worry about sorting out the other stuff.

I know this approach isn't for everyone, and that's fine.  But, for me, I often get caught up in trying to make things make sense immediately, or trying to write things in order.  But when there's something in my head further down the road in my story, I need to remember to write it down while I know it, or else I might forget it.  Losing ideas can really set us back, so we should write what we know when we know it.  Even if it has to be fixed later, or even tossed out entirely.  Because if we don't write what we know, and fixate on what we don't know, we might actually be making more work for ourselves.

Just a thought.

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I think about something an artist friend taught me.  There was this really good manga artist we were discussing.  I was lamenting my inability to draw and she pointed out that the artist (I can't remember who now sorry) can't draw hands.  I was stunned, but she started showing me more of the art.  Very often hands were left cut out of the scene or obscured by angles, and when they weren't the character had gloves on.  Gloves are easier to draw than hands, at least for that artist. 

So, when people say, write what you know, I kind of think about it from that perspective of focusing the reader's attention on the elements that are strongest for you, be that science, magic, character, or plot.  For example, a lot of fantasy writers have never ridden a horse.  They may not know that it's important at the end of the day to brush your horse down and check its hooves for debris that may have gotten lodged between shoe and hoof.  But, that doesn't matter because they just leave that part and sort of gloss over the horses as a mode of transportation. 

When you focus on writing something you know about, you can pull a reader in by sharing with them the thing that is most interesting to you about your writing.  It won't appeal to every reader, but it will appeal to many.  At least, that's been my experience.

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I really like this, Mynoris, and it gave me the image that writing really is like a puzzle. Early, you see the pieces that fit together because of strong details, and then you have the ones that are more indistinct. They need to be in the puzzle eventually, but you don't have to worry about them immediately. It's so easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about all the pieces at the same time, and a lot of those indistinct pieces will get clearer the more I write and they will eventually find a good place. 

And like Tangwystle said, strenghts (the stuff you do know) can be really powerful bits that will shadow weaknesses. The passion you have for certain areas of your story, that joy will shine through for the reader and make it more interesting to read. Just because something is a staple trope in a particular genre, like riding horses, doing something completely different can be really fun. Example: I wanted to write about pirates because there are aspects of them I find really interesting. However, I know nothing about old ships/boats, and the research is just way too massive for me (i.e. I don't have the proper passion about the minute details of a ship). So I made my characters descendants of pirates who settled down on land, but they still live by the code and steal/pirate stuff in their own way. That way I can explore the things that do intrigue me about pirates (their independence, lawlessness, irreverence, kinship, lingo and democracy... along with some awesome coats and hats!) without having to spend years and years reading about ships. I just need to spend enough time on them for some in-world history, and can avoid that whole scrubbing the deck and careening and eat moldy hardtack biscuits... 

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I am still refining my process with each thing I write, and what I'm learning is that for me, writing is a LOT easier when I know the story pretty well as I'm drafting it. If I go in completely blind and pants it and let the story lead me, I end up with a huge messy draft that needs a lot of work (see: the things I wrote for Camp NaNo last year).

So writing what I know means I have to be familiar with the characters, what they want, how they intend to get it, and then the story flows out more organically, and doesn't require as much editing. Well, it will still need a lot of editing, but generally when I have the shape of the story in my head, it won't have as many structural problems on the other side.

I differ from @Mynoris's post in that I don't just dive in with the few bits of information I already know, I take my time outlining and getting to know the characters and absorbing the story before I start, so the 'what I know' pile of knowledge is larger. Both are valid ways of doing this, and really depends on where your weak spots are. If starting (and finishing!) a story is tough, then diving in as soon as the idea is born is good. If you are like me and are paralyzed by a first draft that needs a lot of editing, getting to know the story better before starting is useful.

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18 hours ago, Pinchofmagic said:

I really like this, Mynoris, and it gave me the image that writing really is like a puzzle. Early, you see the pieces that fit together because of strong details, and then you have the ones that are more indistinct. They need to be in the puzzle eventually, but you don't have to worry about them immediately. It's so easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about all the pieces at the same time, and a lot of those indistinct pieces will get clearer the more I write and they will eventually find a good place. 

And like Tangwystle said, strenghts (the stuff you do know) can be really powerful bits that will shadow weaknesses. The passion you have for certain areas of your story, that joy will shine through for the reader and make it more interesting to read. Just because something is a staple trope in a particular genre, like riding horses, doing something completely different can be really fun. Example: I wanted to write about pirates because there are aspects of them I find really interesting. However, I know nothing about old ships/boats, and the research is just way too massive for me (i.e. I don't have the proper passion about the minute details of a ship). So I made my characters descendants of pirates who settled down on land, but they still live by the code and steal/pirate stuff in their own way. That way I can explore the things that do intrigue me about pirates (their independence, lawlessness, irreverence, kinship, lingo and democracy... along with some awesome coats and hats!) without having to spend years and years reading about ships. I just need to spend enough time on them for some in-world history, and can avoid that whole scrubbing the deck and careening and eat moldy hardtack biscuits... 

I quite enjoy doing jigsaw puzzles, so the imagery there of writing being like a puzzle really struck a chord and further refined what I was saying!  Thank you so much for adding your thoughts on this!!  Now I will be able to make that link whenever I do puzzles, so hopefully that will help me in the future to be more mindful of my writing.

 

17 hours ago, Penguinball said:

I am still refining my process with each thing I write, and what I'm learning is that for me, writing is a LOT easier when I know the story pretty well as I'm drafting it. If I go in completely blind and pants it and let the story lead me, I end up with a huge messy draft that needs a lot of work (see: the things I wrote for Camp NaNo last year).

So writing what I know means I have to be familiar with the characters, what they want, how they intend to get it, and then the story flows out more organically, and doesn't require as much editing. Well, it will still need a lot of editing, but generally when I have the shape of the story in my head, it won't have as many structural problems on the other side.

I differ from @Mynoris's post in that I don't just dive in with the few bits of information I already know, I take my time outlining and getting to know the characters and absorbing the story before I start, so the 'what I know' pile of knowledge is larger. Both are valid ways of doing this, and really depends on where your weak spots are. If starting (and finishing!) a story is tough, then diving in as soon as the idea is born is good. If you are like me and are paralyzed by a first draft that needs a lot of editing, getting to know the story better before starting is useful.

To be honest, the thought of making an outline would paralyze me. 😄  So, while we don't have the same method, we can probably realize that each other's ways wouldn't work for us, and that's perfectly fine too.  It strengthens the argument that there isn't a single RIGHT way to write, and that is one of the beauties of writing.  I wasn't trying to determine how people should right; I was just trying to give people another way to look at the know what you write saying, and maybe lessen the pressure a bit by diverting it to another meaning. 🙂

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On 5/29/2019 at 9:02 PM, Tangwystle said:

I think about something an artist friend taught me.  There was this really good manga artist we were discussing.  I was lamenting my inability to draw and she pointed out that the artist (I can't remember who now sorry) can't draw hands.  I was stunned, but she started showing me more of the art.  Very often hands were left cut out of the scene or obscured by angles, and when they weren't the character had gloves on.  Gloves are easier to draw than hands, at least for that artist. 

So, when people say, write what you know, I kind of think about it from that perspective of focusing the reader's attention on the elements that are strongest for you, be that science, magic, character, or plot.  For example, a lot of fantasy writers have never ridden a horse.  They may not know that it's important at the end of the day to brush your horse down and check its hooves for debris that may have gotten lodged between shoe and hoof.  But, that doesn't matter because they just leave that part and sort of gloss over the horses as a mode of transportation. 

When you focus on writing something you know about, you can pull a reader in by sharing with them the thing that is most interesting to you about your writing.  It won't appeal to every reader, but it will appeal to many.  At least, that's been my experience.

That is another way to look at it.  Less about what you know experience wise, and more of what you know craft-wise.  🙂

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I say know what you write, i.e. do research your subjects thoroughly. From the perspective of a writer having interest in different historical periods and countries, this functions best.

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