Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Do Writers Always Know What They’re Writing About?


Over-used, old writing maxim: “Write what you know.”

Misunderstood, old human maxim: “Know thyself.”

Can writers always know what they’re writing about? What if they need to describe the death-thoughts of a character? Do they have to die to know?

Some writers will go to extraordinary lengths to get close to knowledge they have to convey in their stories–exotic research, dangerous journeys, ridiculous jobs.

Tracey Baptiste was able to approximate critical knowledge by merely permitting her children to be away for a summer visit. Her post, Writing from non-experience, is worth reading to know how resourceful writers can be when they need to know. Plus, when you know her novel, Angel’s Grace, was named one of the 100 best books for reading and sharing by New York City Librarians, you’ll appreciate the value of following her blog :-)

Did you notice how many times I used the word “know” in that last paragraph? Now, why would a creative writer purposefully over-use a word?

Since words are the substance of my trade, I often check an etymology dictionary while I’m crafting a piece. When I checked “know”, I didn’t at first know what to think. Usually, a word, let’s say “write”, will have other words as root meanings, like write’s “cut, carve, scratch”.

Know has only know as its root meaning

Apparently, one is supposed to know what know means. Know what I mean?

Most writers have extremely volatile imaginations. Many have gotten away with writing about things they’ve never known, in the sense of having personally experienced, because they’ve known how to use a bit of research and a flock of intuitions to get oh, so close to seeming like they’ve been there.

Write what you know is just one of the many things writers professionally cheat at when they pursue their strange craft :-)

In case you wonder at my use of the word “cheat” in that last sentence, check its roots here
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7 responses to “Do Writers Always Know What They’re Writing About?

  1. Tracey August 11, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Thanks so much for linking to my post, Alexander. Writers do really reach into the unknown and I bet none of us really know what we’re writing about until it’s done, or until a reader tells us what they saw, or a reviewer pans or praises us for things we never even thought of while we were writing.

    And now I have to take a break from working to check out NOTES FROM AN ALIEN! Thanks again.

    Like this

    • Alexander M Zoltai August 11, 2011 at 3:11 pm

      Tracey, great having you visit :-)

      Yes to “reach into the unknown”

      Definite yes to: “…none of us really know what we’re writing about until it’s done, or until a reader tells us what they saw, or a reviewer pans or praises us for things we never even thought of while we were writing.”; especially, “…things we never even thought of while we were writing.”

      Like this

  2. Tracey August 11, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Someone once said it takes the reader to complete the story and it is SO true.

    Like this

    • Alexander M Zoltai August 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm

      Absolutely, Tracey!

      Others have said the book no longer “belongs” to the author once it’s published–rather like a child getting married and cleaving to their spouse ( but sending bits of cash at sporadic intervals :-)

      Since I’m also a poet, these words of Paul Valery are easy to apply to my fiction: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”

      Like this

  3. elizabethnicoleblog August 12, 2011 at 6:09 am

    For me it’s all about imagination. You take what you do know…feelings or experiences & imagine or dream up the rest. Might not be for everyone but for me it’s just about everything…<3

    Like this

  4. Alexander M Zoltai August 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    nicole,

    You use the three prime tools of a good writer–the raw material of knowledge, the intuition of dreaming, and the creativity of imagination.

    And, having been exposed to your work, I must say, you do it extremely well :-)

    Like this

  5. Pingback: What Do You Know? ~ How Do You Know It? « Notes from An Alien

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