Curiosity – Write What You Wonder


“WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW”

That’s the golden rule of writing isn’t it? Or is it as simple as that? Should you write what you know or what you imagine? The answer, as always, is not as easy as that…

Fantasy Art by George Grie

Fantasy Art by George Grie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing what you’re familiar with has its advantages. You can describe the world and its inhabitants with more confidence. You don’t have to spend ages searching for that one elusive word for that object, you know that `thingy’ that needs to be in the scene. If you’re writing a biography (or at least an honest one) or a factual novel, this is a good idea.

However, you shouldn’t always write what you know and often it’s this is a phrase that’s misunderstood. I’ll give an example of George R. R. Martin, a writer much on my mind at the moment as a I’m engaged in the second book in the Song of Ice and Fire Series. In a recent interview on SKY ATLANTIC he talks of his childhood, living near the docks and watching ships come in from all over the world. He mentions how he collected flags and how his love of reading allowed his mind to travel to many places beyond his reach. It’s this sense of curiosity and wonder that is often heralded in fantasy writing, because there is a sense of adventure in wondering `what if?’.

English: Part of the A Game Of Thrones board g...

English: Part of the A Game Of Thrones board game in progress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In some aspects, you could argue that George R.R Martin writes what he knows, in that his writing includes, images of great ships and heraldic banners, like the  sigil of the Black Stag of the House Baratheon or the Stark’s direwolf. However it’s safe to say that he’s never met dragons in real life or seen a `faceless’ man whose face can shift into another face. He might have… but it’s unlikely.

Therefore it’s not always true that you write what you know, rather you draw upon what you see and experience and what you’re curious about.

For me inspiration has often come from an overactive imagination and an innate curiosity about people. I do often wonder what people are thinking and what’s hidden beneath the surface of that social appearance most people have. It’s not hard to see the influence of that curiosity in anything I write, as well as much of my own experiences that will inevitably seep into whatever I write. So it seems that while the old adage `write what you know’ is good, sound advice for any writer, don’t forget to ‘write what you wonder’, which is to say `write what you’re curious about’ as well.

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6 thoughts on “Curiosity – Write What You Wonder

  1. I came over to read this while I procrastinated at my keyboard; intending to write but being easily distracted by the feeling of not knowing what I wanted to write. Perfect timing. As you wrote, I, too, have an overactive imagination and an innate curiosity in people (I’m one of the very best people watchers on this planet). I try to tap that as often as possible. Thanks for the support.

    “write what you know’ is good, sound advice for any writer, don’t forget to ‘write what you wonder’, which is to say `write what you’re curious about’ as well.”

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