Having recently completed modules in languages and maths, I decided that this year I would take a chance on A215 Creative Writing – a level two course provided by the Open University. I chose creative writing this year because I think it’s about time that I explored the business of writing in greater depth in order to explore my writing strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully improving things as I go along.
A215 covers fiction, poetry and life writing. At the moment I write fiction – mainly short stories with a tendency more towards flash fiction. It will be interesting to discover if fiction is still my ‘thing’ by the end of the course. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that by next year I will be writing more poetry or suddenly feel inspired to write a biography. Who knows and that is part of the fun of taking this kind of course.
Hopefully I’ll be able to write regularly about the course once it starts in October.
‘Write what you know’ is one of the commonest and most basic pieces of advice given out to aspiring new writers. It also has to be one one of the most unhelpful and restrictive, placing a noose around creative thinking and pulling it tight. There I’ve said it. And hopefully I’ve finally freed myself from the ‘write what you know’ demon.
Ditching this piece of advice is particularly important for me as I tend to write fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. I have no personal experience of ghosts, dragons, werewolves or of living in times other than my own, and that little demon knows it and sits on my shoulder whispering in my ear ‘are you sure that’s believable? What do you know?’ And yes, I’m sure every writer questions themselves but being told to stick to what you know adds unnecessary pressure to the world of self doubt. Stopping stories before they’ve even been started.
For example: you have a great idea about a story you’d like to write set on a space station but you never start it because you don’t feel you have enough of a science background, or a ghost story in a Gothic mansion but you’ve only ever been in a modern detached house. These could be great stories. You’ll never know unless you write them. Use your imagination and instead ask the more important question ‘what if?’ Tell the us about the characters and check the details later.
I wish more workshops and books began with a few words setting a scene and then asked you to imagine what happened next. Emphasising the importance of ‘what if?’
I wonder if two of my favourite authors Philip Pullman or Neil Gaiman would have written their books if they had stuck to ‘write what you know’.