Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Hi, all :)

Lately, I’ve found myself contemplating two commonly-cited writing adages.  Both are claimed to be helpful for writers.  Oddly enough, both are also somewhat contradicting.

The first of these phrases is a well-loved and well-worn quote by the colorful Mark Twain.  It’s simple, it’s short, and it goes like this:

“Write what you know.”

It’s as true as it is logical.  It’s very hard to write a story set in jungle if you’ve never even seen a picture of a monkey.  In order to write plausible stories, you need to have some hands-on experience, or at the very least, some research under your belt.

Then, however, there’s another saying, and it goes something like this:

“Write about what scares you.”

This quote advocates using your fears to fuel your writing.  This can be a valuable tool, because it can allow us to draw from our deepest emotions and write raw and gripping pieces. For many of us, our fears involve the unknowns in our lives.  Our fears of the unknown can take many forms ranging from our qualms about future uncertainties to irrational fears to matters outside of our control. Still, whatever the case may be, many of us are scared spitless by what we don’t know.  

So, by now, you may be sensing the predicament.  At first glance, both of these quotes seem to advise using opposite techniques. So is it better to write from what we know or from what we don’t know, which scares us?  For the sake of my own curiosity, I would be very interested to get your thoughts on this.  If we are aiming to write literature that is teeming with life, then what is the best way to pack life into our words?  Do we draw from our knowledge or channel our fears?

Thoughts? Questions? Comments?  I’d love to hear them!

Till next time, write out your hearts!

<3 hannah="" p="">

Hannah Lokos is an author and exhausted sophomore in college.  Her debut novel, Labyrinth of Lies, is currently available on Amazon.  It is an exciting new take on a classic Greek myth where nothing is as it seems. You can learn more about Hannah and her book at or you can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+


Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Those two bits of advice are workable together.

Writers, like actors, draw from the emotions that are familiar. We physically react to trauma and drama with the same endocrine system. Jackie Cooper, child actor of the 30's, was told his dog died to get him to cry about another loss he'd not experienced. That was abusive by today's standards, but it's an example of relating the familiar with the fictional reaction.

Thank goodness for research. As to "what scares you," that's anything unfamiliar, new and unexplored.

Big Mike said...

That's why I write about romantic suspense. Cause women scare me (g).

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Richard Hacker said...

My take is yes, do both. And I also find it's helpful to put myself in places where I don't feel comfortable. Not life threatening, more like I don't fit in. Or trying out something I haven't done before. It's not the fear of death, but it does bring up a fear of failure, or being the outsider.