December 8, 2010

take risks with writing

I sort of covered this in a post back in October, but I thought I'd reiterate today.

The common saying is "write what you know." I call bull crap. I've had several people tell me over the years that I wasn't ready to be published because I didn't have enough life experience, that it would take years before I would have enough suffering and conflict to put into stories, that I just wasn't old enough. Monkey doo.

Take that "write what you know" horse manure and fertilize your flower pots. We're writers. We have the capacity to dream up worlds and characters that have no place in our everyday world. Was J.K. Rowling a student at Hogwarts before she wrote Harry Potter? No. Did H.G. Wells build a time machine and travel to a far off future? No. Did Robert A. Heinlein fight in the Bug Wars before he wrote Starship Troopers? No. Well, H.G. Wells might have actually done that, but who's to know for sure?

I write fiction, not non-fiction (where the "write what you know" actually makes a bit of sense). My fellow fiction writers, published and unpublished, didn't get to where they are now by waiting to have enough life experience. They had the passion to write what they wanted to write. They didn't wait for excitement to come to them. They made their own excitement.

So today's Wednesday Wisdom boils down to

Take Risks.

Like I said before: don't not write about a colony of purple, diamond-eating, underwater-dwelling dragons just because no one has done it before. Take risks with your writing. Write what hasn't been written. Explore the unknown. Be crazy. Be nonsensical. Be daring.

And I don't only mean in your writing. The "write what you know" goat bile has a sort of truth to it. I don't mean waiting around until you have enough life experience built up. I mean make that life experience. No, don't have some sort of scandalous affair just so you can write about it.

I mean take risks on your own; call it research. Have you never ridden on a subway or metro? Do it. Have you never climbed on top of the science building rooftop? Do it. Have you never eaten eel? Do it. Never climbed a tree? Never been to Walmart at 2:00am? Never been to Mass? Never drank whiskey? Never played putt-putt in a formal gown or tuxedo?

You'd be surprised what taking risks can do for story inspiration.

So take risks. Take risks with your writing. Take (mild to moderate) risks with your day-to-day life. Be different. Be daring. Be risky.


  1. I believe that a good writer should first master writing what (s)he knows, but I do not believe that the writer should be bound by that limitation. Research and imagination are just as essential to writing as personal experience is, and the three must synthesize to create a story that is both imaginative and relatable.

    Even so, "what you know" is the first threshold a writer should cross. Then comes the time to take risks. I've read too much bad fiction to recommend otherwise.

  2. Umm... how did you know about my colony of purple, diamond-eating, underwater-dwelling dragons? Gah! Back to the drawing board for another story idea.

    Seriously, I loved this. It just boils down to not letting anyone stomp on our parade. We are writers, so we must write. We must decide from our imaginations as much from research what it's like to ride on a subway, if one is not available to us. (It is for me, blah, would rather never get on one again.)

    If we write daily (practice practice practice) and have even a modicum of talent, we'll get it. As you say, we cannot research what the atmosphere on the planet Zerlog is like. We just have to jump in and take a risk.

    BTW... love your "colorful" language. I'm going to be borrowing the following: bull crap, monkey doo and goat bile. Hope you don't mind.