Monday, June 29, 2009

Write What You Don’t Know, Part 2

Last week, I talked about whether it was possible to write about what you don’t know. I.E. what you haven’t experienced personally. And my conclusion was, no, it’s not possible. At least not with the story’s content.

But there are ways to write the things you don’t know. Of course, I’m talking about the craft of writing.

There are a zillion different aspects to the craft of writing. Plot, pacing, dialogue, characterization, voice, etc. Writers know what they’re good at, and what they’re not so good at. Laurie Halse Anderson is amazing at making her character’s emotions tangible. JK Rowling is fabulous at plot. And I haven’t seen anyone better than Neil Gaiman when it comes to voice.

Unless you’ve just started to write, you probably know what you’re good at. As well as what you’re not so good at. You could even venture to say there are aspects of craft that you know well, and there are aspects that aren’t as clear in your mind. These are the things you don’t know.

I’m good at plot and I know my characters like they’re my best friend. But getting all aspects of my characters onto the page doesn’t always work out the way I intend. Therefore, you could say that I don’t know how to siphon my characters from my head to the page. That I’m not very comfortable doing this. And that would sum it up quite well, because I’m not.

To me, the phrase ‘Write What You Know’ or ‘Write What You Don’t Know’ has nothing to do with the content of your story. It’s about your comfort zone as a writer. I’m very comfortable with plot, but I can’t just write a story that’s all plot. Much more is needed. So, I need to leave my comfort zone and work on the areas that don’t come naturally.

In other words, I need to write what I don’t know.

Basically, it’s the old saying ‘practice makes perfect.’ Take something you don’t know, and then work on it until you know it.

What aspects of writing do you know so well that it just flows onto the page? Now, what aspects of writing make you bang your head against the wall? Leave you scratching your head? That your critique partners always pointing out? These are the things you don’t know, and these are the things you need to write. Talk to other writers about it. And write. Read, read, read. And write some more. And keep writing until you know that concept like the back of your hand.

For me, this blog has really helped me to grow as a writer. Basically, it’s helped me take all those things I didn’t know, and sort them out until I knew enough to explain it to another person. And it’s something I’ll continue to do forever, because I can’t see the day when I’ll know all there is to know about writing. It’s much too big for that. And far too interesting. : )

What don’t you know? :)


Eric said...

Good post. This is an interesting way of looking at an old idea. Thanks for the mental stimulation :)

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Hmmm. What writing skill am I not so good at. Well, this is hard because all my non-skills qualify for not too good. The question is, which is the worst. Probably subplots. I have a tendency to be too straight line. That is, I want to get in tell the story and get out. What I really need is good subplots to help carry the main storyline. I do them, I just struggle to ensure they don't look contrived. So, there's an area of improvement for me.

Best regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

PJ Hoover said...

i love your comparison to breaking out of your writing comfort zone. Hmmm...I guess I have to figure out what I am good at and break away from that!

Roy Buchanan said...

Good points, Tabitha. Must get writing. ;)

Unknown said...

Great post!

And a very important point. Just when I was starting to feel a bit burned out on writing, I switched things up: new POV, new verb tense, etc. All things I'd never worked with before--and it was both invigorating and inspiring to write like that!

Tabitha said...

Eric - thanks! I always get a lot out of putting old ideas in a new light. Clears the cobwebs out of my brain. :)

Galen - I sometimes do that too. I'm a direct, no frills kind of person. And sometimes I forget that it's possible to be too direct. :)

PJ - oh, don't lose the things you're good at! I've been reading your stuff, and there are things you definitely don't want to break away from! :) But take something you're not comfortable with and focus on it. Don't lean on the things you're good at in order to cover up the things you're not so good at. :)

Roy - thanks! :)

Beth - it's great how working on a new aspect can freshen things up, isn't it? It's good for us writer geeks anyway. :)

Kimbra Kasch said...

I love stepping outside the box - every now and then.

Tabitha said...

Definitely! It's great for clearing out the mental cobwebs. :)