Monday, August 25, 2008

Know What You Write

Years ago, when I first began to realize a personal ambition to become a writer, I thought it was as simple as putting pen to paper. As any writer will attest, the process is nowhere near that cut and dry.

Of course I do not mean to say that writing is difficult. With few exceptions, anyone can write. My problem was that I actually desired people to read my words. Therein lies the rub. Writing something that is not only readable, but enjoyable, suspenseful, and perhaps even meaningful.

If you want to write for readers, you can't afford to cut corners. It is reasonable to expect that more experienced, published writers may indeed cut corners, but I tend to believe that to be an exception to the norm. The success rate for a person who sits down at a table and pens, from beginning to end, a best-selling work is astronomically low.

There are scores of great blogs and how-to's out there that cover the necessary mechanics to a well-written manuscript. This entry however focuses on only one aspect of the process.

When I first began to realize that my writing was sub par, I too began looking into the how-to's of writing, and still do. One of the themes that kept recurring in my research was this: Write What You Know!

I went through self-inventory processes to define just what it was that I knew so that I could begin writing. The problem was that upon honest reflection upon the things that I knew, I realized I didn't know what I wanted to write. Oh I knew what I wanted to write, but I didn't know much, if anything, about the subjects. What was I to do?

Two obvious options surfaced:

1) I could change what I wanted to write about and focus instead on what I already knew
2) I could learn more about what I wanted to write about

I chose option 2, but the subsequent question was, "Where to begin?"

Those were the days before the internet so I began in the library. I wore out my library card even had to pay a hefty overdue fine when I discovered one of the books had travelled around the world with me on a US Navy vessel. I spent so much time at the library, and visiting battlefields, that it wasn't long before my friends began wondering who my secret lover was!

The advent of the internet has made such research more accessible, but it has been incrementally more essential to check and recheck sources. The internet can be a great tool, but if you remember back to the beginning of this article, anyone can write.

Over the course of the last two decades of reading and research, I do not claim to be an expert upon the US Civil War, but I have arrived at the same understanding that most scholars come to. I know something about the subject, but the more I learn, the more I realize I do not know.

I think it is important for any writer, especially one engrossed in historical fiction, to reach this pinnacle. A writer who presumes to be an expert, often with little education (whether it be colligiate or personal), is bound to write a heap of garbage. People may read it, but what they have read is propaganda, not history. That, of course, is a hot topic for another time.

To return to the theme of today's topic, if you want to write today, write what you know. If you desire to write on a subject you are unfamiliar or relatively unversed in, you need to read and research to a point that you know what you write.

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Favorite Books

  • Portals to Hell
  • To Die In Chicago
  • While God is Marching On

Favorite Movies

  • Dances With Wolves
  • Gettysburg
  • Glory
  • Master and Commander
  • Red Badge of Courage