Imagination or Experience? The Dilemma of Writing What You Know

Write What You Know…

Is there any phrase uttered more in creative writing circles? A seemingly easy phrase to understand, why is it that when we sit down to “write what we know” nothing happens? All of our experiences are either trite or too brief to help us fully form a story. Or in the case of young writers the problem becomes a resounding lack of experience. The biggest anxiety that pops up with that phrase is that our limited experience won’t allow us to write from a place of truth.

Certain artists and critics will attempt to fight against the idea in order to express the importance of creativity and imagination in writing. Now, of course, a writer is supposed to use the imagination. That’s the point of writing a story or poem or whatever genre: attempting to place oneself in the mind of another.  But, now there’s a divide. Imagination or life experience? The artist is stuck between creating and recounting.

In my own writing, I have come to the conclusion that, like most things in life, it is a subtle blending of both that makes the best work. Writing is all about finding the truth within the fiction lie that the artist weaves. The truth of a fictional moment when the reader herself feels the emotions that the character feels. The truth that allows that reader to blur the line between reality and fantasy and become invested in the characters. 

Finding that truth in situations becomes the most difficult task of the writer. How far does  a person have to delve within themselves to find that truth to write about it? And, if a person lacks experience, how do they create scenarios that seem real and yet are in fact fiction?

Maybe the phrase should be: “Write What You Emotionally Know” or “Write About Things You Understand”….

Since that is what the artist is doing. Maybe you never lost a close family member but maybe you lost a favorite family pet. Although the emotional experience is scaled down, you still have experienced loss. Now its time for your imagination to do its job. Expand those emotions, feel the experience of loss and imagine if you lost someone close to you. Morbid, right?

People think artists are obsessed with death or pain or anything dark and twisted, and maybe they are right. But really all the artist is trying to do is understand and imagine situations so they can harvest those emotions so you will want to read it. Taking the internal experience and applying it to imaginary situations is how you get the best pieces of work. If the artist is truthful in her emotions, she can create a situation that appears truthful to the reader.  It’s all about balance. Keep that in mind, and you’ll find that what you know is how to tell a good story.

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One Response to Imagination or Experience? The Dilemma of Writing What You Know

  1. Jorge says:

    I totally agree, and since we’re all adults, and we’ve survived childhood; we have plenty of experience to last a lifetime. Awesome article. It doesn’t always have to be about pain or emotions of it, but it is a universal language we can all relate to even though not everyone enjoys actually feeling hurt.

    😀

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