Writing what you know

'Write what you know' the saying goes. So (notebooks bulging with ideas) off we go with our stories about obsessive first love or scarily weird parents. If your break-ups have been amicable, and your family is functional, you are at a disadvantage.

But if I were to be all academic about it, I might say: how do you define 'know'. Do you mean 'remember'? How do you know your memories are accurate? Do you mean 'feel'? What vocabulary do you have to communicate your emotion to someone else, so they can feel it too?

In an excellent book about writing called 'The Agony and the Ego', Graham Swift suggests that that we should also write about what we don't know. You can learn to 'see' the material for your writing.
Research is as important to good writing as vividly recalled experience, and the skill of noticing, and using words with unselfconscious skill. Good writing comes from a sort of meticulous honesty.

A.L. Alvarez says writers need two things:

* 'The particular faculty of mind to see things as they really are, and apart from the conventional way in which you have been trained to see them.'

* 'The concentrated state of mind, the grip over oneself which is necessary in the actual expression of what one sees'.

More on 'seeing' soon, courtesy of the genius of Lucian Freud...


  1. Thanks for that Sally, given I tend to write fantasy 'knowing' is a little hard!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts