Thursday, June 20, 2013

Write What You Know

While there is a great deal of writing advice that is dispensed from experts, one of the most common pieces of advice offered is this: write what you know. This quote seems to have originated with Mark Twain, although Ernest Hemingway is often cited as well. Interestingly enough, the very opposite advice has also been offered to many aspiring writers as well.

For those, like myself, who write in the science fiction / fantasy genre, this advice seems pretty counter-intuitive. After all, if you're writing about technology that doesn't actually exist, or a planet millions of light years away, or a magic system that is fueled by self-sacrifice, it's hard to use anything even approaching personal experience to write about such things.

However, I believe this advice is generally helpful. In particular, I think it is a helpful exercise to ask yourself what you know or have experienced that is unique or special, and to use your understanding of that particular subject matter as a means to differentiate yourself from other writers in the genre.

In the online lectures of his creative writing class at Brigham Young University, Brandon Sanderson makes the comment in one of his lectures that writers generally come in two varieties when it comes to this topic. First, you have those who know a great deal about a particular topic and focus on that in their writing. Second, you have those who have a surprisingly broad but shallow understanding of a great number of different areas, and thus touch on a lot of different things in their writing.

Next Thursday, I intend to focus on an area that I believe has not been treated adequately in the science fiction / fantasy genre and in which I am somewhat of an expert. But for now, I want you, my readers, to puzzle over two questions:
  1. What knowledge or experiences do I possess that are (at least somewhat) unique from other people around me?
  2. How might I use that unique subject matter in my creative expressions, including writing?
Increasingly, I believe that everyone is creative, and everyone has the ability to make a unique contribution in some creative endeavor. What impact might you make? Thanks for reading.

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