Friday, July 26, 2013

Write what you know.

Greetings my Firehouse friends. Let's have a discussion, shall we?

I was perusing my Facebook wall the other day and came across a post by The Writer's Circle. They posed this question:

 Should writers stick to the subjects they know best or become familiar with new ones?

So much to talk about! Where to begin?

The Writer's Circle posed this question in response to an article posted on the New York Times website in which the author discusses three famous writing mottoes. One of them is, "Write what you know." I could get into some of the things discussed in the article but I just want to focus on the question above.

Like most writers, I'm sure, I heard the phrase, "Write what you know" very early in my writing career. It is a very common sense statement in my opinion. It's hard to write about, even talk about something you know nothing about. But the idea of limiting your writing just because you don't know enough about a certain subject seems a little crazy to me, especially in this day and age. Information is so easily accessible how could you not become familiar with new subjects?

This question of writing only what you know versus learning about new things makes me think of a couple of quotes and a conversation I had with Victoria Hanely (she's the author of The Seer and the Sword and several other books).

The first quote is from F. Scott Fitzgerald. "Writers aren't exactly people...they're a whole lot of people trying to be one person." Now, I won't deny everyone has those different sides of them. But for writers, I think those sides are more fully formed and fleshed out. It's not just that sometimes you turn into a total jerk when you're really hungry. It's more like you change from being you to being a person who legitimately enjoys the thought of clubbing baby seals. Not quite the same.

That being said, writers are likely to dabble in a lot of different areas and explore a lot of different things that will likely show up in their writing somewhere.

This next quote comes from the bestest most awesome show ever, Avatar: The Last Airbender. It may be animated and meant for kids but it is quality, trust me.

The wise Uncle Iroh tells his nephew, "It is important to draw wisdom from many different places.  If we take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale. Understanding others...will help you become whole."

This is an idea that I think everyone, not just writers, should take to heart. Feelings like anger, hate, distrust and fear nearly always stem from a lack of understanding. If we all took the time to understand more of the world around us, even at the most basic level, the level of suck in the world would likely decrease a great deal.

The last thing I want to mention is a comment made by author Victoria Hanley. We were at the CSU Young Writer's Workshop. Ms. Hanley was talking about how so many kids come up to her saying they want to be a writer. She then explained her response to them is usually along the lines of, "Be a Marine Biologist. Then be a writer." Point being, it's hard to have something to write about if you don't do anything with your life.

So, to give my own personal answer to the question, should writers stick to the subjects they know best or become familiar with new ones, I would answer that they should absolutely and undoubtedly become familiar with new ones. The world has far too much to offer to limit yourself to one area of expertise or one lifestyle or one kind of hobby.

What do you think? Is it better to have your niche and stick to it making the assumption the final products will be of a higher quality? Or should you branch out as much as you can and run the risk of producing something less than satisfactory?

I have one last story to illustrate my stance on this matter. I once inflicted a serious amount of damage to my elbow while doing archery for the first time. I was doing archery so I could have a better understanding of the craft so I could write about it in a story. Also because archery is awesome.

Until next time my friends! And I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter.



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