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Write What We Know, or Write to Discover?

It’s an old writing adage that we should write what we know. Some contest it, some live by it. I think it’s rather unavoidable. Even if you’re writing about a futuristic world war where robots made from old bean tins have started a mutiny, you’re writing about human emotions. Even when it’s robots.

We can’t help but write what we know…it’s just that sometimes we don’t know that we know it. My point here? Writing is revelatory. It’s all very well saying that if we’ve been a butcher for fifteen years, we should use our experience to influence our settings, lend authenticity to our creations, but often we find parts of ourselves embedding in our fiction anyway. 

I’ve often written things, and only found where their familiarity comes from when someone else points it out. Ah, that broken toaster that was a metaphor for how we love unconditionally, we actually had one of those in our first house, didn’t we? Huh.

These aren’t always major revelations, but with the right questions and tasks, they can be very powerful. As writers, people often think we spend a lot of time on self-reflection, but the truth is, if we’re dealing in fiction, we’re more interested in other people. Usually the ones who are having conversations in our heads! But we can use what we enjoy and find useful, to explore parts of our own lives!

Think about how you come up with a character’s name, or when you’re a reader, how do you identify with the character. What does their name signify? What possible meanings can come from it. Now think about your names. Not just your given name, but any nicknames, any affectionate words, or unwanted familiarities. How do they make you feel? How do they define you? We name characters and allow their names to shape them- are we given the same opportunity? What about titles? Wife, mother, husband, brother, teacher, agony aunt? Boss? How is who we are shaped by the names we are given.

These are just some small wonderings, but it’s an example of how we use writing to look inward, even when we’re creating outwardly, and it’s part of a task I’ll be doing at my Writing for Wellbeing Workshop in Barnet in April!

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For details and tickets, click HERE

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