Friday, 10 August 2012

I know something you don't know*

What does a maze represent for you?
I'm sure we've all seen one particular piece of advice that's handed out to new, would-be and, indeed, seasoned writers: write about what you know. Which is all fine and dandy until I read about  a succesful series starring a time-travelling vampire disc jockey (it really is the way I tell 'em), and then I start to wonder.



I sometimes twist the advice around so that it reads: know what you're writing about. Which makes a lot more sense to me. Not that I'm in the habit of offering writing advice. 

I do like models though (no, not that kind), and while I appreciate Alfred Korzybski's assertion that 'the map is not the territory', it can be bloody handy if you're trying to navigate through somewhere you've never been before.

On reflection, one useful model for good writing might be a combination of: 
a) Sufficient knowledge (information).
b) The relevance of that knowledge to the reader (context).
c) A fresh and compelling way of presenting the above (angle).

Although the requirements for fiction or non-fiction may be slightly different, I think those same building blocks still stack up. And when you look at it that way, anyone can do it. 
[Insert a pause here for optimism or sarcasm, as the mood takes you.] 

A quick glance through my CV (I've been reviewing it this week) shows pieces about interior design, electronic equipment, personal security, private education, staff motivation, intuitive symbolism, chickens, and downshifting, among others.

I guarantee that anyone who knows me even relatively well will find the idea of me writing about at least one of those subjects incongruous and amusing. Nevertheless I wrote what was required. Not because I'm as clever as I sometimes purport to be (I do impressions), but because I understood the brief and the rules of the game. My point is that we ought not to be put off by the idea from writing about a subject because we don't feel we have the expertise. Writing is as much about exploring possibilities and ideas as it is about putting words down on the page.

However, there really is something I know that you don't know. And it's about a fiction competition where I've taken 'silver', only I'm not allowed to mention it yet. The tension is killing me! More news when I'm allowed to blab.  


* Although you can probably look it up on the Internet.

5 comments:

  1. "Writing is as much about exploring possibilities and ideas as it is about putting words down on the page." Wise words there Derek. Excellent post. Ohhh looking forward to you 'blabbing'. :-)

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    1. I long to blab - especially as there was prize money involved! Hopefully soon... How are your own writing projects coming along?

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  2. Spot on, Derek. If writers want to make it in this industry then they (and their writing) need to be adaptable. In one week I wrote an article about cellular memory, another on thrifty Christmas tips, one on home-schooling and another on how to become more confident. oh, and I interviewed a woman in the States about a ghost that won't leave her alone. I don't claim to know all there is on these subjects, (although I did home-school my own children for six years and had a book published on it), but if a writer can turn out good copy, meet deadlines and be prepared to do a bit of research, the market for work is out there. In addition to this, it's great fun learning about a subject you've never comes across before!
    Can't wait to hear more about your silver medal - well done!

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  3. Interesting and encouraging post! I'm a teacher, and sometimes I wonder if maybe I should just write stories about teachers and students, instead of tales of sculptors and musicians and architects and dancers. Then I realize what you said - that writing is about exploring possibilities and ideas. I think it's more important to write about what interests you, than just to write about what you know.

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    1. I think you're right - it has to start with what interests us (whether it's for personal inspiration or business or some other purpose). It all starts within and readers can spot something that's been written clinically a mile off. From what you've said, you're inspired by various artforms, but that doesn't prevent you from adding teachers and students to your repertoire.

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