Writing Lies: Part 1

Writing Lies Series

“Write what you know.”

This is one of the most prevalent writer pieces of encouragement that I have heard. I can’t even begin to tell you the amount of times I have heard it, read it and said it to myself. It wasn’t until a year or more ago that I put my foot down.

ABSOLUTE RUBBISH!

If everyone wrote what they knew, what on earth would we have? Hardly any historical fiction for one. And fantasy would be a figment of the imagination. And that, my friends, is what this piece of advice will do to you.

It kills imagination.

We can’t write everything we know. Where would be the imagination, the dreams, the exciting new fancies if we did that?

God gave us beautiful minds. And He filled them with dreams. He made it so we could dream, create, build and imagine marvelous things that no one else can. If we decided to write only things that we know, then that would be going to waste. A beautiful gift from God that we would be throwing away like garbage.

There is a small bit of truth to the statement to write what you know. But really, we always do that. What we know and have learned flows subconsciously into our work. We have all felt bitterness, fear, anger, betrayal, happiness, joy, sorrow, excitement etc. We may not have been a knight in the kings army who’s father betrayed him and joined the opposing side. But we have felt similar feelings. We are born with those. We are humans. That being said, we mustn’t take this phrase out of context.

We can write what we know while writing what we don’t know.

Write what you know

So don’t let that phrase kill your imagination. The admonition to only write what you know is a foolish one and something that should not be believed in. Write what God puts on your heart. What you fancy. Write what inspires you. What impassions you. Write what is dear to your heart. There can be no greater reward than that.

Have you heard this phrase? What are your thoughts on “Write what you know.”

By God’s Grace,

Victoria

12 thoughts on “Writing Lies: Part 1

  1. I have heard this so much! Most of the people tell me that,and then I have read so many things telling me to use my imagination!

    Thank you!

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  2. I agree with you to some extent, but as I am a total realist, I think ‘writing what you know’ is often an important piece of advice. Research is part of the ‘knowing’, (if you do enough) so one can portray historical fiction accurately. Of course no one knows about historical events; they have to learn about them. People don’t just know about other subjects, either. They have to learn about them, first. If they don’t, their writing will be inaccurate.

    This even extends to fantasy (even though I’m not such a fan… maybe that’s the realist in me? :P). I have seen fantasy writers research wounds and healing herbs and the like. If you’ve never experienced a broken bone, I would tell you to research effects of broken bones before you make your character walk on a three-day-old broken leg. That’s a little extreme, but you get the point. 😉 Of course, if you have never broken a bone, yet have studied bones and biology so that you know a lot about it, that’s also knowing.

    I’m not saying that imagination is not important; it is! But I think our imagination should by limited by the physical limitations of Earth, unless our purpose is to actually remove those limitations. I would encourage people to write what the like, or feel passion for. But to portray something that you love inaccurately is something I’d hate to see.

    I hope I didn’t sound too mad. I also don’t necessarily disagree with you; I’m not sure about your definition of your terms, though. If you do feel anger coming through the Internet, be assured that it’s not directed at you. 😛 They are just my thoughts.

    CutePolarBear

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    • Oh,don’t get me wrong. I totally agree with you. Research is so important and what we write should totally be rooted in reality.
      I was speaking mostly to the people who told me, “oh, don’t write about an orphan because you have never been an orphan, so how could you possibly write a realistic experience?” .
      I have definitely had people tell me stuff like that and I am like. . . “I have an imagination thank you very much.”
      But you are right. Reality wasn’t something I was saying to do away with at all.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Oh, well then, yes I agree. 😀 If you use that logic, then you wouldn’t be able to write anything other than an autobiography!

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  3. I completely agree! It’s high time we rid ourselves of all these “writing rules.” As creators of fiction, we can’t just believe everything we’re told, thinking that if we follow the rules of writing, we’ll be goods writers. Tolkien never wrote what he knew and look at his popularity! Thanks for this post!
    ~ Megan Joy

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  4. I think, as with most writing advice, if “write what you know” helps someone, that’s great. If it doesn’t, don’t let it hinder you or think that’s the ONLY thing you’re allowed to write, and I do think it’s not the best advice to give a new or struggling writer because of how limiting it can sound.

    However, I say most writers do a combination of drawing straight from their imagination and writing what they know whether they realize it or not. To draw from Megan Joy’s example above me, yes Tolkien wrote quite a bit of fantastical things that he could not possibly “know” because there are no such things as hobbits or Middle Earth. But I must argue that he actually wrote quite a bit of what he did know in addition to what he made up. As a soldier, he knew war from first hand experience, and you can see that many of his descriptions of soldiers and battle in LOTR draw straight from that experience. He knew what it was like to live in a world at war and experience the despair, fear, and loss that goes with such great conflict. He also knew what it was like to cling to hope in the midst of such times, which is one of the core themes of LOTR.

    Need examples from other works?

    How to Train Your Dragon: No one has ever ridden or trained a real dragon, but many of us know what it’s like to feel like a misfit, be lonely, and then find a friend.

    London In the Dark: Victoria, you’ve never been to England in the time period you wrote about (unless you’re waaay older than I think you are ;)) but you know about familial relationships, love, loss, and leaning on God during tough times.

    Chronicles of Narnia: C. S. Lewis never traveled to another world filled with fawns, witches and eternal winters, but like Tolkien, he knew war, and he knew what it was like to experience salvation because of the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    So, really, whether or not “write what you know” is helpful or hindering could all depend on how you look at it. Any writing advice or rule can be a hindrance if we set it in stone and say it cannot be broken or bent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re 100% unhelpful. I think the trick with this particular bit of advice is to avoid throwing it at our fellow writers with no context whatsoever, which sadly, is how it tends to be used and taken. And, like you said, Victoria, we also need to emphasize that it’s totally okay to invent things straight from your imagination, because that’s one of the most fun parts of writing!

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  5. I totally agree with you Victoria. If we were to write what we know, we would get bored pretty soon. Besides, what would be left to discover in our stories, our characters? That’s the fun of writing, I think—the discovering part. If we were to write what we know, our characters might not do the surprising things they sometimes do without telling us–heck, we might even get bored of them, because we’ve known them already. Creativity is also a huge part of writing, but if we write what we know, where does that go? Thanks for this, Victoria! 🙂

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