Write What You Want To Know

When first starting out on my writing journey, I was told to write what I know. At the time this seemed to be not only quite obvious advice, but also something magical. A secret piece of knowledge plucked straight from the tree in the center of Eden. Yet even after a year of thinking of myself as being a writer, I look back at this advice and can’t help but think, is it really advice?

To write what I know makes sense, after all, I know it, but what if I don’t want to write about that. What if the things I know are boring, like how quickly grass grows, or which wall in a square room is the best to watch the paint dry on.

Personally speaking, I never went to university – and that is a different post in itself – and so have not specialized in anything in particular. In short, I have learned as I have gone, so can say a little bit about a lot, but that it not enough to use as the fuel for a book. Unless you are stranded on an island and in need to make a campfire.

As a result I have decided to take this piece of over offered advice and twist it. Not suit my own needs, but to suit all of our needs. Not at a reader level, or even at an author level, but for our personal needs. Personal growth should always be striven for.

Whatever we are writing, no matter how much we believe we know on the subject, research is always conducted. New discoveries or theories are made every week on topics previously thought to be understood, so why don’t we take this opportunity and use to it its full advantage.  Why not take something you want to know, and write about it. You can educate yourself, expand your own personal knowledge base and still write about it. It doesn’t have to be a novel, it could be a short story, or a scene for a blog post. You could even just write a few non-fiction pieces on this new information.

I am fascinated by profiling and crime scenes. I have been since childhood and would have loved to have joined the police force – again, that is another blog post entirely – and so I am planning on researching criminal behavior and basic profiling techniques in order to write my next novel which will look at the devolution of character(s) whilst under stress.

I have a long list of subjects I would love to learn more about, and (thankfully) an equally long list of short-story / character bios / novel plots that can be used to accommodate each of these subjects.

So tell me, what do you wish you had

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21 thoughts on “Write What You Want To Know

  1. Alex, the advice you got was sound, but it’s the advice amateurs follow. Yes, write what you know, but stretch as far as your imagination will allow you to go. Your only limitation is your imagination 🙂

  2. I’d like to link to your blog, Alex. I find your posts thought-provoking. I thought of just the same thing as you this morning and posted about bees, which I researched, and will do some more. That fits into my book. But at some point I’d really like to use your blog as a link because I think it’s a good blog that gets people thinking. I’m going to look around for more interesting blogs and especially sites on horror and Sci-Fi, which I note you’re interested in as well. When my book comes out I’d like to do a blog tour and perhaps you’d be interested? I don’t know how I’d handle it or any questions but it would get me out of my comfort zone. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. I love research! Let’s just say that doing some things is even better when you know it is a tax deduction for research.
    Wink Wink Nudge Nudge

    Yours
    Lez

  4. Great post here, Alex! I just found your blog and am off to root around in the older posts. 😉
    I have always taken that advice with a bit of a raised eyebrow, because really, what if you know something no one else is interested in?
    And yes, it’s a great idea to let your own knowledge inform your work and give it a good, solid foundation, it’s the leafy green treetop of ‘what might have been’ that really catches the eye. Roots go deep, and are important, but we shouldn’t stay down there exclusively!
    I love writing fantasy; which I defy Anyone to claim that ‘they know’. 😉 And yet, it’s the most intimately explored subject of all, we all walk the world of our dreams since day one.
    I think there has to be a huge space on both sides of the lawn; both below and above.

    1. Thank you Elizabeth, I hope you find some other posts that you like. I post quite an eclectic mix of things. Some planned some spur of the moment.
      Indeed, fantasy is a prime example of the write what you like genres. I love horror because it gives me the freedom to move into any other genre I want. Thank you for taking the time to comment. 🙂

  5. Hi Alex, I agree that you should write what you like more than you know becasue I myself don’t know too much. (I think that came out wrong.) But I love doing research. Just passed your book link to my wife and she grabbed a sample and so did I.

    1. That is very kind of you both. I too love research. It helps me feel as though I am still educating myself. I have a strange phobia of not progressing beyond where I am. I know exactly what you are trying to say about not knowing anything. 🙂

  6. I’m 67 and I have a terrible fear of acting and/or thinking like an old woman, both physically and mentally. I love research, too, and learning new things. I don’t know anything at all after 67 years, I know less than I did 20 years ago or at age 17 when I knew everything. It’s loads of fun. And Hutch, I like your post, too, and thanks for following me on my new blog. Much appreciated. You can leave comments there, too, but so far I haven’t written much. I’d like to do something interesting to get followers and comments but will have to think about it some more, also explore blogs like Alex’s here and find out how they do it.

    Speaking of that, Alex, Highway to Hell is a great horror read. I just read the first two chapters but am I right that it’s an anthology of short stories sort of rather than one coherent novel? It’s great and I’m getting some great ideas. I’d like to find more writers of horror/fantasy. I like those genres for exactly that reason, I can write so much more freely and independently, anything I like really, in horror and fantasy. I do try to stick to what few rules I know about length and so on. Presently am working on three horror novellas that will be in an anthology called Footprints in Hell, I think. I keep changing the title. Have finished the first novella and am working on the second, but need to do lots of reading and lots of inspiration. I have a day job (I work as a medical transcriptionist at home) but am off for a couple of weeks, so have been writing a lot. I’m really grateful when I come across writers who think in new ways or independently, and don’t think it’s their way or the highway, either. It’s often well worth to find the diamonds in the dirt, and I’m really enjoying the world wide web for that reason. There’s so much choice. I started out on an old Olympic manual typewriter and ate mastodon and rode a dinosaur to school. I’ve had a lot of fun in life and continue to enjoy the postmodern age, which is the very best, IMHO.

    Keep writing, people, I find it fascinating. Hutch, I want to find your blog and follow you, too.

    1. Thanks Kenna,

      I am glad you are enjoying Highway to Hell, it is the first novel in a trilogy. I introduce each of the characters separately as it was the only way to do so. Once you have met them, the story comes together to form the novel.

      Thanks for commenting.

      1. That’s unique, I think, to give each character an introductory chapter. I thought it was a novel then thought it might be a collection of short stories. Very good. There’s more than one way to skin a cat, my mother always said.

        I just sent you two separate vignettes from my next novella. One is from the first chapter and one is from the last chapter. All I have to do is fill in the middle for about 40,000 words — which I’m doing now. It’s a draft so far, of course, but I’m learning as I go along. If you have any objections to what you recognize as having been influenced by your short stories, then I will certainly omit them, Alex. Thanks, though, for helping me to see the world in a new way.

  7. We are almost out of 2011 so let me leave this challenge for 2012;
    The life you lead will kill you in the end so love your life and die happy.

      1. That is one of my better ones right up there with, “If you can’t Rock’n Roll then Lock’n Load

  8. Wow, I look sideways for a day or two and suddenly there are all these exciting new discussions happening! And before I forget – Happy New Year everyone!

    Now to the main course! In my not so humble opinion this discussion has parallels with the old nature/nurture debate in the sense that the true answer was and always will be somewhere in the middle.

    As a writer I don’t think I could write a single word if I did not have 58 years of ‘knowledge’ to draw upon. Some of that knowledge comes from formal education, some from life experience and some from self-directed research but all of it influences how I see the world and that will come out in my writing whether I want it to or not.

    Of course I’m going to write what I know but… I’m also interested in big questions that are far beyond my own comfortable life experience. For example, one sci-fi/fantasy story began because I started wondering what the internal world of a psychopath would be like. That lead to wondering what a whole world of sociopaths and psychopaths would be like. Would it even be possible? From that point my journey of discovery lead to astronomy [for binary stars], psychology [for clinical descriptions of psychopaths], dueling worms, primitive counting systems and…lots more.

    I cannot tell you how much I learned about the real world while researching aspects of a very extreme fantasy world. So I’m with Alex – I want to write about things I don’t [yet] know through the filter of what I already know or think I know.

    p.s. you’re right Lez and I might add that at 58 I’m never going to be this young again so I’d better enjoy it while I can 😀

    1. Thanks for your comment. I couldn’t agree more with living life like you mean it. The path of your esearch just shows how we can broaden our knowledge with the aid of but one single idea. Happy New Year!

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