Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Write What You Know

Dude, this is not your typical "write what you know" blog post. I'm going to branch out a little bit, drawing on another Printz speech I heard last week.


This time, it was A.S. King that caused the tears to flow. She won a Printz Honor Award for her novel, PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ.

She talked a bit about how she watched her mother die, and then get resuscitated right in front of her. From this, she realized that teens do need their parents.

And since then, she hasn't been afraid to write what she knows. And I don't mean that she sets her books in the town she lives in, or that she bases a character on someone she knows.

I mean, that she writes what she knows emotionally, and she's not afraid (remember to be brave!) to do it, even if it's not popular.

I think sometimes we write to a trend, instead of writing what we know. And it's those books that are written by people who know that are truly meaningful. A.S. King wrote a book that she knew. She was brave enough to do it, and she said during her speech that she was grateful she found a publisher that would "put up" with her crazy stories.

So when I heard A.S. King speak, I felt empowered to write the way I want, no matter how popularity played into it.

Are you digging deep to write what you know?

45 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I think it's harder than writers realize to write what we know emotionally - b/c we have realize what those raw emotions are and why we feel that way. But I agree it can be powerful.

Lydia Sharp said...

This reminds me of James Scott Bell's advice to, not necessarily "write what you know", but to "write who you are." Meaning, who you are inside. Drawing on your own experiences will give your stories depth and emotional impact, the ability to truly move your readers. And he says that if you do this, your stories will always be original, because only you can be you.

Great post. :)

Miranda Hardy said...

I will always write for myself. I don't write to see my book on a shelf, I write as an escape and I love to put my stories down. I wish everyone would do the same. The stories are less forceful.

Jen Daiker said...

When I first started writing I had no idea what it meant to "Write what you know" now I know exactly what it means. I work off emotions, feelings, strenghts. It all benefits me. I may have wanted to write about Vampires, Mermaids, Cute boys (that one I kept), but I didn't get the ideas. Why? Because I wasn't mean to be Stephenie Meyer. I was meant to be Jen Daiker.

Matthew MacNish said...

I'm not going to admit to any details in a blog comment, but everything I write is essentially about me, and based on things I've been through.

Anna Staniszewski said...

Great advice. I think sometimes people hear "write what you know" and think they can only write about characters like themselves. But it's the emotional knowledge that matters most.

Kristine Asselin said...

Exactly. Pull those emotions from your heart and your characters will feel them. Ergo, your readers will feel them. But it's hard! Great advice!

Wendy Paine Miller said...

Working on it, thought it's taking on different shapes and form lately.

~ Wendy

lynnrush said...

So true!!!! Great post. We must be bold, but it's not always easy!

Jennifer Hoffine said...

Write what you know to be true...good one...because even if others don't agree it will still read as authentic.

Ben Spendlove said...

Yes.

Finally.

And it's at once wonderful and terrifying.

A.S. King said...

Elana, you rock. It was so awesome to meet you last weekend and I am so glad the speech reached you in this way.
My writing history was an odd one. I wrote for 15 years before I ever saw publication and I had long given up on writing anything "popular" or "in" because I frankly didn't give a hoot what anyone else thought of my books. I knew they were what I wanted to write. And so. . . I wrote them. I attempt to still write the same way now that I am published.

If anyone wants to see this speech, you can find it linked in my most recent blog post here: www.as-king.info

Thank you so much for such a compliment!

Just A Girl said...

I'm navigating the emotional wall of protection in my writing. It's hard, but worth it. Thanks you for sharing!!

Julie Musil said...

Elana, this is such great advice. As I'm revising my novel, I'm tempted to delete lots of things because I think "no one would want to read this." How will I know if I delete it all?

I've heard about this book, and I must read it.

Kaylee Baldwin said...

I love this! Write what you know emotionally. I can really tell when I've read a book that an author that poured their heart into, vs a book that they plunked out for a trend. It's not that I don't like those books, too, or don't respect all of the time and work and talent that went into writing them--but the emotional ones can be so raw and memoriable long after trends fade.

Shari said...

How awesome that the speaker visited your blog and commented!!!

I write what I know. The problem with that is that I don't know very much. :)

Tracey Neithercott said...

I've heard this is great. It's been on my short list of TBR books but for some reason I always overlook it. Thanks for the reminder!

Sarah Allen said...

Great post! I heard Rowling once say in an interview that her mother died after she started working on Harry Potter, and that totally changed how she approached Harry's feelings towards the death of his parents. If we live and remember to pay attention, I think we can learn a lot, and then writing what we know isn't actually that big a restriction :)

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Theresa Milstein said...

This is a "write what you know" I can get behind.

I always write about relationships between parents and the protagonist. I think that was the hardest part of my teen years, and I suspect it's the same for many teens now. For each piece, I always dig deep to pull from my feels about certain experiences. I can make up a lot of stuff, but the emotions are the same.

ali said...

I love this. Thanks for sharing E.

K.V. Briar said...

Wonderful advise. It can be so hard to write about your experiences like that. I think a lot of writers write what they do as an escape from their life, to confront your experiences head on you'd have to be very brave (what would you feel like when such a personal piece was rejected?). Maybe I'll try this and see where it takes me.

VR Barkowski said...

Brilliant post. I think often when writers write to a trend, they think they are writing what they know. They've read all the literature and researched their topic via all available paths. But writing from emotional knowledge is not the same thing. And it is brave.

Angie said...

Awesome. Yes, I have done that! I refused to believe that I couldn't write LDS science fiction. I refused to change my characters to some other religion. Hey, I know my own religion pretty well!

Bethany Elizabeth said...

Wonderful post. It is important to write what we know emotionally, even if we don't know it physically. For example, I have never actually shot fire out of my hands. But I can totally imagine how awesome it would feel. And hot.

Lisa_Gibson said...

So true, so true. What a wise viewpoint on writing what you 'emotionally know'. Love this. Oh and loved PLEASE IGNORE VERA DIETZ. Was a great read.
Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

OfficeGirl said...

I love this post. I am going to think of it everytime I write. Thanks!

Jessie Humphries said...

In my current ms I have often found reasons to hold back or temper things...maybe I should be more brave about my choices.

Krista said...

It is because I write what I know emotionally - and thus poor so much of myself into my work - that sharing it with others is so overwhelming.

Currently I have my very first novel in the hands of some friends and family who agreed to be my beta readers. Turning it over was nerve wrecking - but they like it!

I had one of my beta readers comment that she can hear my voice in her head when she is reading my work. Not sure if that is a good thing or not - but I think it is cool!

~Krista
I Take the Pen

Krispy said...

That's so empowering. Thanks for sharing this!

Jeff King said...

I am, I think, I hope... well maybe I am.

kathrynjankowski said...

Great distinction. It takes courage to write from your gut, but the results are so worth it.

Jamie Burch said...

Thank you for this reminder! As an aspiring author it's easy to be influenced by trends.

Ishta Mercurio said...

Yes! Finally... It's why I love both writing and acting. It's about emotional truth.

Damyanti said...

Fictional truth needs to be universally felt, and it helps if the writer has experienced it herself, and can write it from an emotional core. Lovely post.

Melissa Dymock said...

How do you write an emotion or feeling that exist in a situation you've never been in? I've been struggling lately with my character's emotions since it's nothing I know about.

phyllis sweetwater said...

excellent post. I realize that I'm mostly writing for entertainment, which is also ok, but I have caught the bug to dig deep. thank you.

Jennifer said...

This is such a great post. Thanks for reminding me to write what I know. I tend to start to feel myself writing for the masses and I always end up feeling that my writing is incomplete somehow.....so thanks!

Christine Rains said...

Awesome post. I do my best to write what I know, but sometimes, I have to write what the characters know. I try to tie it in to what I've experienced, though. I want my protagonists' emotions to be authentic.

Jo Schaffer said...

I heartily agree. (=

Mindy McGinnis said...

Write what you know is excellent advice. We can't make our readers connect to our characters if we are not able to make them real.. and in order to do that, we must, must know what we are talking about.

Leslie Rose said...

Mining our own emotional landscape, if we're brave enough, usually turns up some impressive gold. I also like to "write what I wish."

Carrie said...

This is a really great post Elana. I like the idea of writing what you know emotionally and not writing to a trend. Wonderful advice.

Gina Blechman said...

Great advice. The only thing I sometimes question is: what happens if you come up with this great story idea that you love, but you don't know that it will be a popular idea and you don't have as much experience with what the characters are going through? I mean, everyone feels the same sort of emotions at some point, so there's that, but still... Must do more thinking on this one

<3 Gina Blechman

Kimberly said...

Fabulous reminder on how powerful our own emotions really are when we remember them.

Liesl said...

I really love what you said about writing what we know emotionally. That really resonates with me, because even though I write fantasy in worlds outside my own, I do try to write with I know emotionally. I've just never been able to put it quite like that. You rock!

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