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  • Karina Sokulski

Write What You Don't Know

I remember taking my first creative writing class in my junior year of high school. I was thrilled every day to go to this class to learn how to write creatively--it was especially exciting since creative writing was always the first class of the day. The lessons were still a blast because one day we worked on fractured fairy tales, the next we tried our hand at poetry and the day after that we practiced our prologuing skills.

The day came that I'd grown my character creation confidence (say that five times fast) enough that I attempted to write a character with an Irish accent. The attempt was whole-hearted, I assure you. The result, had not been great--given that it was a first attempt at writing an accent, it was hardly a surprise. I remember our teacher kindly telling me the effort was a good one, but it is important to "write what you know." She went on to say that the writing is much more sincere if you write what you know and not what you don't. Avoid accents if you don't know how to write them.

The class seemingly concurred but I wondered. Now before I go on, this is not a story about a dastardly teacher who was secretly aiming to oppress creativity. No, this is a recollection of an event that made me wiser in the backdrop of a high school level class taught by an English teacher who wanted to try her hand at teaching creative writing.

For the time being, I took this advice and avoided accents and focused more on the mechanics of writing dialogue and narrative with the same level of enthusiasm. I aced the class and put up with one more year of high school before moving onto to the University of Houston--intending to join that creative writing department. Once in and attending my first creative writing class under the wing of an actual publishing author, I braved to ask the very question that had stuck with me.

Can you write what you don't know?

Of course, the answer was yes, but it wasn't the simple answer I was expecting. "You can write what you don't know if writers didn't we wouldn't have historians or sci-fi writers. Hell, we wouldn't have Star Wars or Star Trek." She went on to add the need for research and gain a knowledgeable understanding of what it is you're trying to write about but never limit your creativity just because you're not an expert on something from the beginning.

During my early years of college, I bought every reference book on writing I could get my hands on and set to work on building my craft. My first reference book, Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb had a forward written by Dennis Lehane (author of Mystic River and Shutter Island) that offered similar advice. Lehane had written in his forward, "As writers, it's our job to give the illusion that we know everything. It's not our job to become a heart surgeon because we want to write a character that is one." It was yet another little injection of the same wisdom that had me expanding the horizons of my creativity.

Enough of my rambling, what's the point of all this? Write what you know. Write what you don't know. Learn something new and tell an incredible story about it. Part of writing is celebrating differences, seeing a new perspective and expanding your mind. Learn how to learn more for your story and create a world with enthusiasm worthy of true artistry.

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