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Once upon a time, a young woman was so in love with books that she decided she wanted to become a writer so she, too, could create loveable stories. She read everything she could about writing. Then, one day, she found herself in a book store where she bumped into an old man among the shelves. Turning to apologize, she discovered it was a venerable, much-loved author.

As soon as she could find her voice to speak, she said, "Oh, sir! I know you are very busy, and so I would just like to ask you one small question: what is the best piece of advice you have for a beginning writer?"

The old man smiled and said, "Certainly, young lady. In fact, I will write it down for you."  He took out a small slip of paper and a pen and jotted something down. Then he handed the paper to her.

She thanked him profusely and moved out of his way so he could go about his business. Then she looked at the little paper in her hand. She frowned.

"Write what you know."

Well she was very disappointed. In fact, it made her quite angry. What if she didn't want to write about the things she knew? What a stupid piece of advice. She had expected better from the very successful, venerable old author.

No, she decided, I will write about something I can't know about. I'll write about space, she thought. And she crumpled up the paper and tossed it away.

It became an obsession. She found when she sat down to describe the stars that she didn't really know how to describe them. So she purchased a telescope. Some stars appeared differently than others, and so she went to the library to find out why. She began to follow NASA's projects, read articles and interviews about astronauts. Looked at spaceship specifications. Watched televised rocket launches.

Soon she could write all about space and space exploration. But space was a wild frontier; there was so much of it that hadn't been explored. She thought, aha! This is something no one can know anything about. She took her research about possible other planets and began to imagine what they were like, what plant and animal species might be like on them, whether there could be intelligent life and how that might play out in a world isolated from her own.

She created characters and spent hours thinking about them, thinking about what their languages and cultures might be like, thinking about what their emotions might be. She turned to philosophy to see if she could make them more or less human like, developed moral and value systems for them. She put much care into making them as real to herself as possible—keeping them consistent, making them believable.

And she wrote. She wrote and she wrote. Her work was good at first, but the more she wrote about these things she'd been learning and developing, the better and stronger her work became. She was invited to conferences of all kinds, from academic summits to entertainment conventions.  Sometimes she was asked to speak on panels. She used these opportunities to talk to other people in the fields, to see what they were doing and what they thought.

One day, she was sitting in a coffeehouse when a shadow fell over her table. When she looked up, she saw it was the venerable old author she'd run into all those years ago in the book store. He was even older now, and more venerable, and he was smiling at her. "May I sit down?"

"Yes, of course," she said, a tinge of her old awe coming back to her.

"I was wondering how my old advice has served you in your work," he said.

"Oh," she said. For a moment, she wasn't sure she should answer. But it is usually best to be honest. "I didn't find it very helpful at all, actually."

He seemed surprised. "No? But it is the best advice any writer could give or receive."

"I don't think it is. You told me that I should only write about the things I experienced in my life. But you know, I wanted to write about other things."

He raised his eyebrows and reached into his coat. From an inner pocket, he pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. He straightened it out on the table and then turned it toward her so she could see the writing on it. "I would love for you to show me where I said that," he said, "so I can correct myself."

But the rumpled message only said "Write what you know."

She frowned. "But I wanted to write about things I didn't know about."

"Did you do it?"

"Yes. I wrote about space. I've never been to space."

He began asking her questions. What's the difference between a gaseous giant and a white dwarf? What kind of planet is Earth? How does the distance between a planet and a star affect the conditions on the planet?

She answered all of them.

"It seems you know a lot about space," he said.

She frowned. "Well, there are some things that people can't know about. Like aliens."

"Oh?"

She nodded. "I had to make things up."

"I've read several of your books," he said. "I particularly like your Falengal race."

She smiled and felt very pleased.

"They had an interesting culture dynamic," he said.

"They were based on an African society," she said. "Just wait until you read my next book. There is another faction that comes into play, another tribe, and it is based on a South American one. The society is a paternal rather than maternal one, which is a break with earth-based traditions." She began to describe this new people in detail.

The venerable old writer sat listening and nodding, his hands folded on the tabletop. After a while, he said, "It seems you know a lot about these invented people of yours."

She went quiet.

"It seems you've been following my advice all along, you just didn't realize," he said.

He continued. "As a writer, you know now there are many different ways to say something, just as there are many different ways to know something." He took up his little paper and ripped it into strips so that there was a word on each strip, then he rearranged them on the table. Now the advice said, "Know what you write."

"To be honest," he said, "it's all the same. But I think you can recognize the point now."

She didn't answer.

"I am glad you have become a very good writer in your own right," he said as he rose. He smiled at her and tipped his hat and went on his way.

Over the years, she met many different other kinds of writers. Sometimes they came to her for advice.

Some wanted to know why their characters were so flat. She could tell them, "It is because you have not gotten to know these characters at all, they are strangers just moving your plot along. Characters are people, not tools. Find out more about them. Ask them questions, explore their pasts, give them strengths and flaws, pay attention to how they do even mundane things."

Some wanted to know why their characters seemed to move in an endless, indefinable plane. And she would tell them, "You know very little about the world you are trying to write about. If you want to write about 12th-century England, you must learn about 12th-century England before you can expect to recreate it. What were the sights, the smells? What were common occupations, what did people do in their free time? What did the landscape look like, what crops did people plant, what foods were there to eat? And people didn't talk like you and I do now; you'll have to look at texts that survive from the period."

Some wanted to know why their readers wouldn't believe the things they were trying to write. "If you knew more about what you were trying to do," she'd tell them, "you could be consistent about it and offer details that would let your readers follow you and believe you. Yes, you can shoot a man out of a cannon, but I don't know a thing about how. So you're going to have to find out about circuses, read some biographies of famous daredevils, watch some documentaries. Then your readers will have an easier time suspending their disbelief."

One day she was in a book store and a young man bumped into her. As he turned to apologize, he realized who she was.

"Oh, I just love all your books!" he said. "I want to be a writer just like you someday."

She smiled. And when he asked her for the best piece of advice she could give to someone who wanted to become a writer, she said, "I'll even write it down for you."

She handed him a slip of paper. "Write what you know," it said.

He frowned. "Well, what if I want to write about something I don't know? What if I want to write about vampires and vampire hunters and witchcraft?"

"There's all sorts of ways to learn about those things. And you can write about anything in the universe that you want to write about; it's just better if you know what you're doing before you sit down to write," she said. "And if you don't know it, learn it. Then you'll know it, and it will show in your writings."


---
People misinterpret this phrase all the time and then use their mistake as an excuse to throw this advice away.

A more scholarly approach: [link]
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Daily Deviation

Given 2013-01-24
Write What You Know is fantastic advice: a message through narrative from *jamberry-song. ( Suggested by LadyofGaerdon and Featured by neurotype )
:iconirishgirl217:
irishgirl217 Featured By Owner Nov 4, 2014  Hobbyist
*speechless* 
Wonderful job! Much deserving of the Daily Deviation you recieved! :D
Reply
:iconmockingjay1256:
MockingJay1256 Featured By Owner Sep 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
aHA I FOUND YOU! I had read this a long time ago, it was one of the first things I've ever read here on deviantART. After much searching I found it again!! I just want to thank you, this story is truly inspiring and its wonderful and I've enjoyed it just as much this time as I did 3 years ago :)
3 years ago might not seem like long to much but it was a LIFE TIME ago for me and I've most certainly changed a lot since then.
But that's beside the point and I'm rambling already XD Sorry about that

Anyway, thank you! thank you! thank you! :D
Reply
:iconjgfceit:
jgfceit Featured By Owner Aug 13, 2014  Student Writer
Beautiful work!
Reply
:iconayzeee:
AyZeee Featured By Owner Jul 12, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
This is a very inspiring piece, and I'll take it to heart. <3
Reply
:iconthe-random-dreamer:
The-Random-Dreamer Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
Some very useful advice and a nicely written story to demonstrate it. :thumbsup: :)
Reply
:iconautumnlit:
autumnlit Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2013
:blackrose: Your beautiful prose has been featured here: fav.me/d6nss4z
Reply
:iconmalikvamp:
malikvamp Featured By Owner Apr 9, 2013
Howdy!
My name is McKinley Wiens, and I've just recently started based around how literature, and different topics about it! I want to post 1 story a day that I have found online and I quite love, accompanied by a short review and maybe a comment from the author! Would you by chance be willing to allow me to post a link to this page, and write my opinions on the piece on my blog, linking of course also to your DA page?
If not, no worries! If you are willing, I would love if you could also answer some or all of the answers below for me, to work into the blog post??

1. What inspired you to write the piece?
2. What does the piece mean to you?
3. How has literature as a whole, or literature communities on sites such as DevArt, affected your life?
4. Favorite novel?
5. Anything else you feel is relevant, and would like to have included in the post!

Thank you so much!!

If you allow me to use and link your piece I will tell you as soon as it is included into the blog!
Reply
:iconeuxiom:
Euxiom Featured By Owner Mar 9, 2013
Ahaha, I suspected the advice would be turned on its head from the moment it was introduced in story. A very fun piece, I like it!
Reply
:iconmidnightdroplets:
midnightdroplets Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2013
Are either of the authors based on actual authors?
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:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Feb 1, 2013  Professional General Artist
The girl is vaguely based on myself; the older author was based on a professor I had once who was the first person to give me the advice (he didn't explain it to me, I figured it out on my own). Everything else is made up or based on problems I've seen a lot of writers talk about in the chatrooms and the forums over the years.

:)
Reply
:iconhoshi-hana:
Hoshi-Hana Featured By Owner Jan 25, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I'll take the advice to me ^^

Amazing short story and congrats with the DD. It's well-deserved <3
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you so much! I hope the advice serves you well. :) Never stop writing! :heart:
Reply
:iconanmisto:
anmisto Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you for these
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
And thank you for reading! :heart:
Reply
:iconcobean:
Cobean Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This is an interesting story! I never really thought about it that way, I mean I know they are people. Individual people mind you, but I guess I haven't fully grasped them, they don't seem as real as I expect them to be. This story kicks me in the pants with determination. I will try my best to learn more about my character so they will be lifelike. Phenomenal story! I really like how it repeated itself in the end. Great job^^
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you very much! I hope it serves you well; keep writing. :) Write, write, write! :heart:
Reply
:iconcobean:
Cobean Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Okay I will :D I will also use this for other stuff, like my understanding of engineering and with some of my characters!
Reply
:icontiramia:
Tiramia Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
You've probably already received a billion notes like this, but this is just amazing. Well thought-out, a great twist of rearranging the words, and the sweet turn of a full circle at the end! My favorite part is that the old author kept the paper the whole time, just waiting to teach the woman the lesson she learned without knowing it.
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you so very much for reading and for this sweet comment! :thanks: :heart:
Reply
:iconseserous:
Seserous Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I have heard this advice from every damn English, writing, lit and poetry teacher I have ever had from 5th grade to the end of college. When I first heard it, I disagreed for exactly the same reason as the young author in the piece. It's taken years to understand it. Your presentation is clever and if I had read this way back when it wouldn't have taken so long to get it. I especially like the feel and tone of the narrative. Amazing how something so quick and easy to read can convey so much good advice.
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Awh, I know, I've had the same problem. Thank you so much for reading, and for this very thoughtful comment. :thanks: I really appreciate it. :heart:
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:iconcontraltissimo:
Contraltissimo Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013
Hee hee, I like this. :D
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:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thanks for reading. :) :heart:
Reply
:iconthecrazymagnet:
thecrazymagnet Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013   Writer
A wonderful take on this classic advice. Love it!
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you very much! :thanks: :heart:
Reply
:iconrosalinda16:
Rosalinda16 Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist Writer
Fantastic. Brilliant advice. I'll have to remember that.
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you! I hope it serves you well. :)
Reply
:iconstrobili:
Strobili Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013
how very true, what a wonderful piece!
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Awh, thank you! :thanks: :heart:
Reply
:iconstrobili:
Strobili Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013
<3
Reply
:icongmyumil:
GMYumil Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013
OH MY GOD THIS IS BRILLIANT
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you very much! :thanks: :heart:
Reply
:iconpinballwitch:
pinballwitch Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013
Congrats on DD! I've read your story before, I don't remember where (not through groups, so I'm mystified), but I really like its message to writers :)
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Maybe DailyLitDeviations? Anyway, thank you so much for taking the time to read it! I really appreciate that. :heart:
Reply
:iconabraxas-within:
Abraxas-within Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Timeless advice, and i really like the story. I've been working on the same book for years, but i know I'm far from writing it since i still haven't brought the world to life like i have my characters. Oh well, i still have plenty of time, and the best books emerge on their own rather than being forced out by the writer.
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
I think there is a lot of truth in that; I have a couple of books that I've been working on forever, too. I hope you finish it one day. :) Keep writing! :heart:
Reply
:iconabraxas-within:
Abraxas-within Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thank you! And you too. :)
Reply
:iconxandory:
Xandory Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist Digital Artist
I'm glad this got a daily deviation. I know this sounds sappy, but it helped and really showed (me anyway) to stop and continue to know the people, the culture, and the climate before jumping into the story. Thank you so much!
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Awh, I am very honored and glad to hear this! Thanks for reading, and keep writing. :) :heart:
Reply
:iconwishcat:
WishCat Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013
Thank you very much for this epiphany you've given me. For some reason, while I can apply this advice to my characters, I hadn't ever thought to take the same approach to the land/place. And I was stuck. I've found what was missing! It seems so obvious, right? Thank you SO much!
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
I hope it does help! Keep writing. :) Thank you for reading. :heart:
Reply
:iconastrangeallure:
astrangeallure Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I got chills and that stinging in the tip of my nose...you know what I'm talking about...thank you. :heart:
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you for reading! :heart:
Reply
:icondemonflames:
Demonflames Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This is a really good story with a good feel to it. It follows how I feel when I write and the thought process I take into my stories. Like making sure I really have a sense of who the characters are and the world they're in before I get too far into the actual writing itself. XD
I really really love this story. Especially how the young lady passed the same advice on at the end. Perfect right there. :)
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you very, very much for reading and offering this very thoughtful comment. ^___^ :heart:
Reply
:icondemonflames:
Demonflames Featured By Owner Jan 29, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
lolz You're quite welcome dearie. I love literature and creativity. Especially pieces like this that have advice as useful as the title. :)
Reply
:icongeoffryhawk:
GeoffryHawk Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
It's strange, cause I've had people come to me for advice on how to make characters more real, or worlds more engulfing.

I never really understood why people would come to me, cause personally I wasn't sure I was much of a writer. I always wanted to draw more, but I suppose in drawing characters I got to meet them.

I saw their faces, I knew their stories they're never just a character to me, they're this living breathing thing. And their worlds are alive, they're places I might visit some day. And I've sorta followed after some of my favorite story tellers, people like Gene Roddenberry, or Todd Mcfarlane. Perhaps they're not the usual, but when I read something of theirs, or watch something...I don't feel like I'm just watching or reading, you get engulfed, the worlds are detailed...things feel rich with something indescribable. Real World and Fantasy become indistinguishable.

So I guess I have something to offer up when next I'm asked. This is wonderful and thought provoking. Bravo!
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Thank you very much! :thanks: It's good of you to be a beacon to people. :) May you remain so! :heart:
Reply
:iconnimbus2224:
nimbus2224 Featured By Owner Jan 24, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
This is so true. I'm speechless............. Well done! :D
Reply
:iconthebrassglass:
TheBrassGlass Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2013  Professional General Artist
Aw, thank you very much! :thanks:
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