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The Lonely Writer’s Companion – “Should I Write What I Know?”

Pub Date: Mar 31, 2014

Lisa Lenard-Cook

The Lonely Writer's Companion

“Should I Write What I Know?”

Welcome to The Lonely Writer’s Companion. The format’s simple: You send in your questions, and each month I’ll select one to answer. Email your questions to me c/o dbooth@authorlink.com. (Be sure to put “Question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion” in the subject line.) You can also contact me through my website, www.lisalenardcook.com

". . . every seed for my writing has been planted because of something I don’t know. "
—Lenard-Cook

Question: Do you agree with that old adage, “write what you know”?

The Lonely Writer responds:True to the Lonely Writer’s contrarian nature, no, I don’t. But, please, let me explain why.

I’ve found that every seed for my writing has been planted because of something I don’t know. This began when the Lonely Writer was a young girl, and, rather than answer her endless questions, her parents chose to say things like, “You don’t want to know,” or, “It’s none of your business.”

Is there any better way to feed the imagination, especially the vivid imagination of a writer (or future writer)? Think about a circumstance where you saw or heard something out of context, or about which you’d never be able to learn more. Did you begin to imagine why this person had said this, or done that? Of course you did.

I’d argue that not just fiction, but memoir, too, begins is what we don’t know. Why did ___ do that to me? Why didn’t I fight back? Was no one else around? If so, what did they think? Or didn’t they care, and if so, why didn’t they?

"Fiction originates in direct personal impression linked by imagination . . . "
—McCauley/Lanning

I’m reminded, as I often am, of my favorite definition of fiction, from Robie McCauley and George Lanning’s Technique in Fiction:

Fiction originates in direct personal impression linked by imagination with the writer’s resources of experience.

Writing begins with that direct personal impression—something that resonates for you, personally, that in turn fires up your imagination. When you add your resources of experience—how you’ve felt when you’ve been happy, sad, angry, or lonely, for example—you can’t help but create a work—again, whether fiction or memoir—that will resonate with readers.

So don’t write what you know. Instead, write what you don’t know, and your imagination will take you—and your readers—places you’ve never been.

 

Got a question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion? Email it to me c/o dbooth@authorlink.com, (be sure to put “Question for The Lonely Writer’s Companion” in the subject line), or contact me through my website, www.lisalenardcook.com. Your question could appear in a future column.

 

Find Your Story Writer Your Memoir
Find Your Story,
Write Your Memoir

by Lisa Lenard-Cook
and Lynn C. Miller
Buy This Book via Amazon.com

PEN-short-listed author Lisa Lenard-Cook’s most recent book is Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press), which she co-authored with Lynn C. Miller, with whom she co-founded of ABQ Writers Co-op (abqwriterscoop.com), creating community in New Mexico for writers everywhere. She's an editor of the literary magazine bosque, on the faculty of the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference, and the Board of Narrative Arts Center in Santa Fe. Website: lisalenardcook.com