Write what you know. Really?

‘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’.

The Refinery – #55WordChallenge

Below is my entry for Lisa McCourt Hollar’s 55 Word Challenge Week 42. Check out all the stories here.

This is based on a picture of an oil refinery – these is more that intend to do with piece so check back later to see what I add.

Take a photograph, and the oil refinery is captured revealing thousands of lights shimmering and sparkling under a darkening blue sky.

A picture to fire the imagination with images of steampunk inventiveness, and charm.

But photographs lie.

Those living under the refinery’s shadow witness the truth as the monster belches flame and devours the stars.

55 words

The Raven Cries Three Times – #55wordchallenge entry

Below is my entry for Lisa McCourt Hollar’s 55 Word Challenge Week 40. Check out all the stories here.

This particular entry forms part of a larger work in progress. So here goes:

The raven cried, and a door between the worlds opened.

His second cry pierced the battle-slain corpses, and their warrior souls rose up; a rolling wave of mist weaving through the leafless branches, straining for the raven’s warmth and life.

He cried again, summoning a storm that swept them through.

The door slammed shut.


Ashes to ashes – for 55 word challenge

This is my entry for Lisa McCourt Hollar’s 55 Word Challenge Week 39.  Check out all the stories here.

For centuries he drifted, poised between sleeping and waking.  The blast of the last shuttle take-off finally shattered his dreams.

Roaring, he ripped through the earth and once more a great dragon bathed the world in fire.

Firemen stood helpless as buildings collapsed beneath the dancing flames.

The world ended.  Swept clean.  Ashes to ashes…

55 words.    ©EJHillson

Decontructing Dracula 1

As part of the Radio Drama Writing course I have to de-construct a radio play, and as a horror fan I decided to listen to Dracula. As the play isn’t currently running on the radio I had to get it on CD.

The afternoon was gloomy. The house was silent except for the odd creaks any old building makes. Rain was lashing against the windows, and the cats were curled up beside me on the sofa as the play started. All very atmospheric, and I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed the production

That was yesterday. Today the hard work begins as I now have to listen to the play over and over again while splitting it into it’s component parts; looking at things like:

  • scene setting
  • atmosphere
  • introducing character
  • pace
  • dialogue
  • sound effects
  • music
  • etc.

I hate this part as there is a genuine risk of ruining the play’s storytelling completely, but there is a 2500 essay due on this, and it might just help my own radio script, so I’d better just get on with it.

Wish me luck.