Jump to content

Writing Tip: "write What You Know" Doesn't Mean Show Off



For those that celebrated it, I hope everyone had a great Christmas yesterday. And for those that don't celebrate it, I hope you still got a good haul.


Now on to Boxing Day, Kwanzaa, Post-Festivus winter sales, and the ever important Pre-New Year's Eve creative writing exercises ("This year, I *WILL* stop gagging everytime I see the neighbor's newborn", "This year, I promise to exercise... starting next week - or, by the end of the month... well, maybe...").


And to help you with your writing, here is another lovely tip from our own Libby Drew. Enjoy!




‘Write What You Know’ Doesn’t Mean Show Off


We’ve all heard the saying “write what you know.” It’s made the rounds because it’s valuable advice. Not that a writer can’t earn a living making up stuff like evil unicorns and sparkly vampires, because some people obviously can, but you can also use what you know. You’re smart. Capitalize on it.


Your special area of expertise, whatever it may be—doctor, computer programmer, horse groomer—is useful. It’s previous research. It’s gold at the end of the rainbow. Readers enjoy learning new things, and they’ll appreciate that your details are authentic.


What else might you bring to the table? Maybe your vocabulary is better than the average bear’s. Perhaps you’re well-traveled. These are all things that will help you write fiction.


But beware! Just as too little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, too much erudition can doom your story. Don’t show off. Good writers never show off. They don’t load their prose with facts that won’t advance narrative. Nor will they purposely use big words when simpler ones will do.


Talented writers introduce their expertise unobtrusively. They sprinkle it over their dialog. They mix it with senses and impressions. They also remember that people don’t like books filled with fancy words they don’t understand. Because, here’s the bottom line: Readers don’t care how smart we are, or that we’re walking thesauruses. They just want a good story. If we show off in our copy, they’ll abandon our fiction faster than you can say ‘zombie attack.’


Perhaps you’re writing a scene in which your character is baking a cake. If you find yourself waxing poetic about confectionary sugar and egg whites, stop. Take a deep breath and examine whether you’re letting your career as a pastry chef get in the way of your career as a writer. (If you’re not a pastry chef, seek professional help.)


It’s a fine line, but the more we practice, the easier it gets. Very complex ideas can be explained in simple language. And we can give readers lots of fascinating facts and details without coming across like blowhards. Practice moderation. Work your knowledge into the narrative slowly and subtly. And if something isn’t relevant to the scene, scrap it.



  • Like 6


Recommended Comments

I love your writing tips Libby.  They are always so clear and concise.


This is one of those tips that I've always tried to follow, but I always end up going to the other extreme.  By trying not to include too much "expertise" in a story, I end up hardly including any or none at all.  It's probably why I've never wanted to write an Egyptology themed story - I'd probably end up being accused of being Zahi Harwass in disguise :lol:


But as you say, it's something that will come with practice.

  • Like 2
Link to comment

Hi Andy. :)


It does get easier with practice, but I don't believe it ever stops being a struggle. It's especially hard with subjects that are close to our heart. Wouldn't it be nice if there were a formuma to follow? But each story demands a different level of detail, just as various scenes inside those stories need to be handled differently. Trial and error and an objective editor definitely help.


Thanks for reading and for the comment.

  • Like 1
Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here: Privacy Policy. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..