1. Mercurial
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    Mercurial Contributing Member Contributor

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    Writing and Age

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Mercurial, Feb 10, 2009.

    Title can be made relevant or irrelevant; slip of the hands had me posting before I intended. ;)

    Up for discussion:
    "Write what you know." Though the original source seems untraceable, the mantra is one we've all surely heard at one time or another.

    Does this phrase have any impact on your writing?
    Do you write what you know? (Why?)
    Or do you push the boundaries? (Why?)
    If you're supposed to write what you know, do you think that better writing comes with age, as you tend to learn more as you grow?
     
  2. Shadow Dragon
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    Shadow Dragon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally, I think that phrase is b.s. If it was true, there wouldn't be any fantasy or sci-fi writers. Just write about whatever interests you. As for Age, talent and willingness to learn are more important in writing then age is.
     
  3. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Age offers several advantages to writers...but I'd much rather be young again! LOL
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Write what you know remains good advice. It doesn't mean you never give your imagination free reign, but if your readers know more than you do about what you are writing about, you won't go far.

    You mention science fiction. You won't find many experts on the zoology of Tau Ceti III to contradict you, but you darn well better understand the basics of orbital mechanics if your story has scenes involving orbiting bodies.
     
  5. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    The story I am writing atm is the result of my imagination running wild. So you are partly right... However, I constantly use my life experience to add realism to my writing.

    I think most writers bungle romance (especially fantasy writers! Robert Jordan, anyone?) due to lack of experience. At 21 I only have a few relationships to go on, so I use some of the drama that unfolds around me. Some of my female friends like to use me as an emotional dump site, so I get a lot of material from them. Hmm... That sounds bad, but hopefully you know what I mean:p.

    I use my Dad's pos car. He bought the thing for $50 (seriously) and it was one problem after another, adding up over the years to perhaps the worst pos car in history. Last time I saw him he had an antifreeze leak which fogged the windows so bad you couldn't see a thing. So he'd be constantly wiping away with a roll of paper towel, or crane his head out the window as I feared for my life. It also simply shut down in intersections, so he would have to restart it. He would have to try several times. Then something fell off. Didn't know what... but what a racket!! Got home and found the muffler barely hanging on by a finger width piece of rust. (There was no clean metal left on ths car). So I use this for one of my "downtrodden" characters.

    I have a lot of spiritual friends of all types... Shamans, reiki healers, wiccans, christians, satanists... I get along with almost everyone, and putting all this stuff together is the true inspiration for the story I'm writing!!

    So yes, *use* what you know, and keep learning, but write with imagination! Sticking only to what you know would result in a rather dull tale when it comes to fantasy. One must take a plunge now and then to be truly original.
     
  6. Flozzie
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    Flozzie Active Member

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    I don't constantly think about that I should stick to writing about things I know about, but it does make things easier. It's easier to make what you write believable if you know what you're talking about. For example, if you write a book taking place in a certain city, your readers living there will qickly notice if you have really been to said city or not.

    And I just have to quote.
    I couldn't have said it better myself.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    of course it does!... the more i've learned in my life, the more things i could write about...

    certainly... i do so because it would make no sense whatsoever to write about things i've no knowledge of... however, that doesn't mean i can't and don't use my imagination when writing fiction, to 'build on' what i know to create things that may not exist, or that may have existed before i entered the scene...

    and if i want to write about things i'm not familiar with, i'll do the requisite research and learn all i can, before jumping in with both feet and trying to write believably about them...

    answered above, i believe... as to the why, naturally it's because i'm a writer and as far as i'm concerned, part a writer's job is to push the boundaries... as a philosopher, i also consider it my responsibility to do so...

    age has nothing to do with the quality of the writing, only with what 'informs' the work... if you're not born with the talent to be a good writer, then no matter how old you get, you won't be one... talent is an innate 'gift' you possess from birth, not something that one acquires along with wisdom teeth and wrinkles...

    that said, if you have that gift, then it will take learning and perfecting the requisite skills, for you to put it to work successfully... and that does require 'aging'... but again, it does not just magically appear or improve, as more and more candles are lit on your birthday cake...
     
  8. Darker Rarechild
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    Darker Rarechild Member

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    There is no such thing as a spiritual satanist. Unless your source for information on Satanism is the Church of Satan web site, a member of the Church of Satan, a member of the priesthood, or from The Satanic Bible by Anton LaVey, then take it all with a grain of salt, as it might not be true or Representative of Satanism at all.

    I did a good deal of research on Satanism in the 9th grade for a report on it, so I know a great deal.
     
  9. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Writing what you know is good advice; however, when writing sci-fi fantasy you have to invent stuff that does not exist. You have to invent a unique universe, or I suppose you could rip of an existing one, but that sucks.

    I think only the most creative minds can pull that off.

    But writing what you know doesn't limit you. Sometimes you have to study to increase your knowledge. Frank Herbert I believed studied desert people and the desert and such for years before writing Dune.
     
  10. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    As old as I feel at 21, I still feel much too young. There are so many things I want to write about, but don't feel like I know enough on the subject... mostly pirates. Gah, do I love pirates. I devour every book, educational movie, and History Channel special I can on the subject in hopes that I can one day write that book... or at least incorporate me some pirates into some other story >.<.

    But, yes, I do write about what I know... or what I can make up. These days it's mostly fantasy and faeries/otherworldly creatures. I know Paganism and its ilk, and so some metaphysical practices find their way into my writing as well.

    And in that line of thought...

    I assume you mean "no such thing"? There is. It depends on what kind of Satanists. Lavey Satanism is basically organized atheism. There is, however, Theistic Satanism. It's not my cup of tea, but I've known a few perfectly amiable and very spiritual Satanists.
     
  11. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I have been studying comparative mythology and religion for years now. Theistic Satanism is much older than the Church of Satan, which is actually fairly new.
     
  12. Michel Zhivago
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    Michel Zhivago Member

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    Two words: George Lucas. ;)

    Anywho, personally I don't think 'write what you know' is necessarily a rule - you won't go far wrong following it, but you don't have to if you don't want to. If you're writing something you haven't experienced, or that is made up, then you need to research thoroughly or, in the case of fantasy (I'm told - I've never written fantasy myself) you need to work hard at the world before you start to do stuff within it.
     
  13. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    Sorry, that was bad phrasing. I know this well. I only meant that I know people representing most faiths or mystical practices. I read the Satanic bible in grade 7 or 8 in the same month as I read the Bhagavad-Gita and the Christian Bible. I must say I found it more interesting:p. I have always enjoyed learning about this kind of thing, but could never actually bring myself to believe in any of it. But isn't it just so typical that Satanism has the most intellectually compelling arguments? More of a philosophy than a religion, and one that most people adhere to whether they have read the book or not. I have a copy of the Satanic bible on my desk right now... using it as research material for a character.

    Lavay's version of Satanism is very recent though. If you ask a Christian what a Satanist is, they will regail you with absurd mythology. And who's to say there aren't any olde school Satanists around? Surely one or two...:p
     
  14. RIPPA MATE
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    RIPPA MATE Contributing Member

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    i think the 'write what you know' thing comes more from your personal experiences and ideals. While the whole "i know how to fix a latitricricalium compatartment version 27b3' can be easily put in the research box.
     
  15. Darker Rarechild
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    Darker Rarechild Member

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    Yes, thank you for pointing out my typo, how thoughtful of you. Now allow me to clear up any misconceptions you may have about Satanism.


    There is only one type of Satanism, and that is what you said was "LaVey Satanism", but "LaVey Satanist" do no accept that to describe their brand of Satanism. To them, it is simply Satanism, and that is that. Anything else is not Satanism, but pseudo-satanism or something thereof.

    Anton LaVey codified Satanism on April 30th 1966. Before he turned Satanism into the worlds first carnal religion, it didn't exist, except for Christians who would use the word as slander. Much like being called a witch in Salem, Ma in the 1600's.

    Anyone who lived prior to 1966 and lived their lives as outlined in The Satanic Bible or close to what is written in The Satanic Bible, are called "DeFacto" Satanist. There is no way anyone previously could be a full Satanist as it simply didn't exist as a religion or philosophy until 1966.

    Theism is the belief in a deity. Anyone who believes in an actual entity known as Satan is not a Satanist, but rather a "Devil Worshiper". They follow a form of inverse Christianity. These are people who decided they rather play for the other team because it seems "cool" or "rebellious", but they are really nothing more then Christians, because if you believe the Christian Devil exist as an anthropomorphic being, then you must also believe the Christian God also exist.

    Usually the people who believe in the following are troubled youth, drug addicts, lunatics or people who need a God figure in their life to help them or make them feel better, because they are too weak to take control of their own lives, or they are looking for someone to skirt their responsibility to.

    Remember that the phrase "The Devil made me do it" has always been a popular excuse by those looking to be relived of their crimes.

    So as you can see, the only brand of true Satanism is the brand that LaVey brought forth on April 30th 1966. Except no substitutions. ;) lol!

    "Satanism demands study, not worship"-Anton LaVey

    Think I studied the subject enough? lol!


    Given the stories Christians have passed on about "Satanist" over the years, if any old school Satanist still existed, they need be caught and sentenced to prison for a long, long time. A good loony bin works, too!

    Edit: Further discussion on the subject may want to be taken to the PM Systems, as we don't want to derail the thread.
     
  16. Sada
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    Sada New Member

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    If you are anything like me, you want to be taken by surprise when reading a story or just tickled on a nerve you didn't even know you had.

    So yes, I would always include an element I know something about and then push it a bit, exaggerate, blow it up in proportions, give it a twist ...

    Age? I wouldn't say age plays a role, a young person can be so smart and witty and put events together in a very colorful way where as sometimes an older person looses that spontaneous, daring side, everything gets dimmed a little unless they grew old staying young in their heads :)



     
  17. Penny Dreadful
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    Penny Dreadful Senior Member

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    RE: Darker Rarechild

    Well, if I'm going to write what I know...

    Try telling a non-atheist Satanist that there is only LeVay Satanism. It's like trying to tell a Pagan that they can only be a Wiccan. Does. Not. Go. Over. Well.

    I've never met a LeVay Satanist with qualms over being compared to their occult-inclined cousins, but I suppose it happens. Calling them "Devil Worshippers" is really splitting hairs. That's no official name for anything, really. It's a bit like calling a Pagan "heathen", in the sense that they might look up and not be offended. It's even closer to calling any other monotheistic people "God Worshippers" for that matter.

    As far as sources go, I can really only claim eleven years in the Pagan community (though the gothic/horror-loving subculture introduced me to a few Satanists here and there as well), and a talkative best friend doing post-grad work in religious studies.

    I won't post further on the matter. Religion is just a hot-button for me. I think arguing theology with friends has conditioned me that way over the years... :(
     
  18. Shadow Dragon
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    Shadow Dragon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I love that a topic about the saying, "write what you know," ended up being about satanism. :p Though I do agree with Penny that there is more than one type of satanism. Oh, and I loved how you compared it to calling all pagans, wiccans. No offense to wiccans but I would hate it if someone called me a wiccan just because I was pagan. *Shadow sits back and waits for the eventual lock to come to the thread*
     
  19. Gone Wishing
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    I've pondered those things in regards to my own writing often. I think that to a certain degree, I most definitely write about the things I know. When I say a certain degree, I refer mostly to my characters emotions and how they motivate them to make certain choices - those things reflect lessons I have learned over time.

    At the same time, however, I have a tendency to write about things that I question. A great many things intrigue and fascinate me - things that I have no way of experiencing (particularly in regards to things I often reference in theme - philosophy and religion being generalised examples). So I do explore these, in broad terms.

    In regards to the age question, and again I generalise, as I feel there are no absolutes in things like this, I tend to think of it in terms like the more you have experienced/learnt, the more material you have to access and convey believably. I also believe that the greater your understanding of what you do and don't know is, the more likely it is that you will be able to make solid choices about what to draw on and write about.

    I take "write what you know" to reference anything and everything that you have inside knowledge on - which encompasses a massive amount of experiences no matter how old you are.
     
  20. delhi
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    delhi Member

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    I guess that when I start a topic for writing or whatever, I begin with ideas I know, and then with questions. I have to do research for certain things (and I love it, I never learn as fast as when I research for a story, it's unbelievable), not only to make my story believable, but to have boundaries to push! When there are rules (things in real life, physical laws and such) you can bend them, though you have to know them. When there are not, you have to create them, explain them. Both thing are fun, and hard to do.

    Because of that, I still use fantastic worlds, to have less boundaries than with realistic ones, and to need less knowledge than with sci-fi. I feel too ignorant to write sci-fi yet, and that does come with age.

    A ten year old won't write about politics or adult relationships for sure, but even later... I'm still in my teens, and I know a lot more now than two years ago. I hope I grow as much in the next two years - what I study at school, the friends I know, the development of the relationships within my family, my growing independence and my increasing maturity play a huge role in my stories.

    However, that doesn't mean that what I wrote earlier was necessarily bad. Just... childish. Ignorant. That is: basis to learn from, emotions to remember, records of my growth as both a person and a writer. It teaches me not to rush into adulthood. :)
     
  21. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    "Write what you know" has much merit, but I think too many beginning writers take it way too literally. It does not mean "Write only what you know from personal experience." It means to write only what you yourself have some understanding of, even if that understanding isn't firsthand.

    I write about ancient Egypt but I've never been there. I write about sex but I've never experienced it. I write people killing others but I've never killed anyone. And so many other examples I could go on forever. The thing is, I've either READ about certain things, or I've been able to put myself in a MINDSET to understand the emotional reactions that go into a situation. I've written from the POV of a man though I'm female; I sure can't experience this personally without a sex change, but I can put myself in the mind of a male character and see things through his eyes. That's a form of "writing what you know." If I couldn't see things through a male character's eyes, or do any of the other things mentioned above, then I would have no business writing any of this stuff because I really WOULDN'T know it and my writing would turn out unconvincing, very lousy. So you see how the saying has merit...just that it needs to be taken less literally. There are lots of ways of knowing things other than firsthand experience.

    So, to answer the questions...

    Does this phrase have any impact on your writing?

    Yes, because I wouldn't be able to write what I do without at least some basic understanding of it, but please see what I mentioned above regarding "experience."

    Do you write what you know? (Why?)

    For the most part, otherwise I wouldn't write it convincingly. But again, see what I mentioned above. Many of the things I "know" are just from being able to empathize or put myself in another's shoes. In terms of factual issues, I try to learn what I can before writing, or I learn it during the process. I have some earlier writing when I didn't quite know what I was doing and it's kind of ignorant now, but that's how one learns.

    Or do you push the boundaries? (Why?)

    I just write what I want to write; I don't try to push boundaries or stay within them or whatnot. I just write. If I want to write a three-headed alien with seven different genders then I imagine I could try that without having to push any boundaries, since I could just put myself in their head, same as with any other character. If I write what I don't have at least a basic understanding of (sorry for the awkward phrasing), then it won't come across convincingly. For me "pushing boundaries" would be trying to write factually about a subject I have no factual understanding of (for example, auto racing), and I would fail utterly. (I might be able to write from the mindset of a racecar driver, but as for the racing part...ugh.)

    If you're supposed to write what you know, do you think that better writing comes with age, as you tend to learn more as you grow?

    It has more to do with just learning than with age. The two simply happen to correspond a lot of the time because we learn more as we get older, though somebody can learn a lot when they're young; and just because one learns a lot doesn't mean that can be applied toward their writing. *shrug* I do think better writing comes with more experience writing, because it doesn't matter how much older or how much more experience you get over time--if you're not practicing your writing, it's not going to get any better. Having a lot of interesting experiences and knowledge doesn't mean you'll write a good story. (Witness all the people who insist they could write a great novel but never do so. Me, my life is boring beyond compare, but I write all sorts of fantasy novels and such.)
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    To relate "Write what you know" back to the original topic, everything you write should connect in some way to what you know. Even if it is the mostr outlandish fantasy, if there isn't an element of human nature that you readers can relate to, the story will bomb.

    With age, there is often a warehousing of experiences tnat can be called upon in writing. Chances are, someone in middle school will not intimately know the uncertainty and downright terror of leaving home and having to deal with day to day survival wit no job experience, haqving to find a living space you can afford, and not knowing how far you can stretch the thin sheaf of currency in your wallet. Most people over the age of 25, however, will likely know exactly what I am talking about. There are exceptions on both ends of the scale, of course: Children who have had to set out on their own atr far too young an age, and forty-year-olds who are still living under their parents' roof. But generally, age correlates to a collection of experiences.

    So if the typical 14-year-old tries to write a story about a young man who has suddenly found himself on the streets, needing to get his life together in short order, the odds are it won't won't seem particularly realistic to most readers who have already faced their own coming-of-age trials.

    Likewise, if a city boy tries to write a coming of age story about a farmer's son taking odd jobs with rural families as he makes his way across America, he'll probably miss the mark as well, unless he has spent some time among people who live and work in the Heartland.

    But the person who has worked to eke out a living from the land may be able to extrapolate a survival scenario on a distant planet, even without ever having set a foot outside his own county. He can draw upon what he knows, even if his general knowledge is somewhat restricted.

    This is what is meant by writing what you know. It is not meant to be constraining. It means you should build upon the strength of your own unique experiences, because that will best come across as genuine. It can only strengten your writing.

    It is also the best poissible reason for accumulating as many experiences as you can, especially if you wish to be a writer. A voracious appetite for knowledge - i.e. curiosity - is one of your most powerful advatages as a writer.
     
  23. ManicParroT
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    Cogito's post really nails it.

    When I write I try and build characters that I can relate to, and I put them in situations that I understand. When I don't, things tend to feel very hollow.

    Handily, it also shows me the limits of my experience. For example, I'm terrible at writing female characters. I just don't have enough insight into women to make it plausible. Similarly, I never bother writing anything set in the US, say, since I've spent virtually no time there.

    I can rectify this with experience and study, but it's good to know what I have to work on.

    This doesn't preclude writing fantasy or sci-fi: It just means that when I do write that, I have to pay particular attention to the worldbuilding, to make it plausible.
     
  24. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    George Lucas wrote a high fantasy set in space. Science has nothing to do with it.

    And I think you're missing something in your thought process here. It's still write what you know because you will know it once you've done the research. So It's really "Write what you know, or make sure you know it before you do." Besides, even if you don't do it intentionally, stuff you already know, about relationships and human nature etc, will leak in.
     

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