Friday, February 4, 2011

Write what you know is BS

Sorry to say it, but it is. I know you don't want to hear this. You think, "But that's what everyone tells me I should do." Most often, what they're telling you is wrong. That's right, I said it.

People say "Write what you know" a lot. Either they are telling you to do what it says and write on the topics that you know, because you know them. Or they're telling you to ignore the stupid saying and write what you want. But the saying shouldn't be taken so damn literally.

I'm totally stealing this from my screen writing teacher, by the way. In class one day, he brought up the saying and then said, "'Write what you know' doesn't mean write about a college student who works at Best Buy. 'Write what you know' means write those emotions you know."

That bears repeating: Write what you know means write the emotions you know.

That's it guys! The true meaning of how to write what you know! Everyone has felt jealous, angry, happy, elated, nervous whatever. What my teacher told us was to take those emotions as fuel for our scripts. He wasn't telling everyone to write about the experiences we'd had, but of course you can. Just that your writing can extend beyond ourselves and into the lives of others. So what if you're not a 72-year-old woman with a cute dog? That doesn't mean you can't write that convincingly. If you are true to the feelings you know, whatever you're writing isn't going to come off as fake or forced.

I'm not saying this is easy by any stretch of the imagination. It may take some work for you to really dig in and grasp this and implement it well. But if you practice and really work at trying to write true emotions that you know, your writing will soar. People will relate. And that is the best feeling in the world.

Then go and use that feeling to write something else.

What do you guys think? Does this make sense to you? Let me know in the comments.


Theresa @ Fade Into Fantasy said...

Absolutely makes sense and thank you for sharing! This is something that I know I needed to hear, and I'm sure others did as well. :)

Annerb said...

Thanks, Theresa! When I first heard it from my teacher, I was like, "That makes so much SENSE." But since then, I keep hearing people giving advice to ignore WWYK all together. You can do anything with research and determination, but you'll need to WWYK to make it real.

Sarah Robertson said...

Haha, I was totally thinking about talking about this - the part with Jenkins and everything! Maybe some other day with a different spin. Also reminds me of that time in creative writing where everyone wanted to know if I was a dog person. *lol*

Annerb said...

@Sarah I have no idea what you're talking about with the dog person thing.

Sarah Robertson said...

Orner's class. Someone, I think it might have been Herb, asked if I was a dog person. Because I apparently understand the relationship between dog and owner so well as evidenced in Copper story and Taxidermy story. It cracked me up. CATS FTW.

Rane said...

BRENNA! I just received HUNGER GAMES in the mail today from the giveaway hop. I just wanted to say THANKS!! Getting this book today like MADE my day(well, that among a couple other reasons)!

Another reason why I'm having a great day is because I just announced that I will be hosting a very special event on The Lit Express. It is called "Who Is Saint Giovanni?" And the grand prize is a Kindle! You can check it out on my home blog:

I really can't wait to read the Hunger Games, and I will let you know what I think:-)

SiNn said...

I never thought of it like that writing what you know meaning by the emotions not the actual literal deal some people take it so literally that it seems like ur reading word for word drones and sometimes is boring great post

Stephanie said...

I totally agree with this. People are more likely to experience a variety of emotions based on life, but that does not mean that they have ever done some of the more extreme acts that are written in books. You can empathize with the emotions the characters go through even if you have not been in the same situation.

Fi-chan (Bookish-Escape) said...

omg thank you! Sounds like you have a great teacher

Birgit said...

I absolutely agree!!
Besides, just imagine all those crime authors would actually have to go around shooting people to "know what they're talking about" ...

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