write what you know

You’ve probably heard this advice before. On the face of it, it seems so obvious. What else are you going to write? But what does it actually mean?

Can you only ever write of things you have personal experience, expertise or knowledge of? If so, how do you write characters who might be very different to you? And what if you want to set your story in an unknowable future?

It’s better stated as write what you know, and what you have learned about. That opens the scope up so even unknowable futures can be learnt about. Sure, you don’t know what the world will actually look like in 3052, but you can research the laws of physics, how human societies evolve, and some of the latest advances in science that will probably be old hat by then. You can build a world based on what is already known, and some predictable ways in which things change.

That works fine for possible futures and imaginary societies, but what about writing people of other real existing races, ethnicities, and cultures? There are cultural and political sensitivities about writing from the perspectives of communities you are not a member of. Research is only scratching at the beginning.

Understanding where power lies, learning to listen to people of the community you want to write about, writing about yourself and how you would react given all the cultural knowledge you’ve now gained and all the power politics at play, being sensitive to the role of ritual and practice in the culture, not falling into stereotypes or lazy tropes, acknowledging that you’ll probably get it wrong, and considering whether your voice really adds something useful to the narratives of those you’re writing about, are all good next steps.

With some great yeah write surprises coming up, some big and some tiny (hint, hint), this could be a great time to think about how and if you write about communities you don’t belong to, and how to write what you know.

Prompt Up!

Prompt Up is our optional weekly writing prompt for the fiction|poetry challenge! Here’s how it works: we choose a sentence prompt from last week’s winning nonfiction post and announce it in the kickoff. It’s your job to use that prompt in your poem or story. The prompt is just a springboard: feel free to use it as your first sentence, move it, change it, or float it down to other territories.

Lisa takes us through the steps of a break up in her post, How You Get Divorced. The prompt up taken from her essay is: “You can’t find the shape of yes in your mouth.”

March poetry slam: blank verse

We want to get back to the basics this month. The basics of poetry, that is. It’s been almost two years since we first delved into blank verse for a poetry slam, and while we’d like to pretend all the new folks go back through our writing help section regularly, even we don’t do that. But blank verse is one of the building blocks of great poetry, and even if it’s not your favorite form, there’s tremendous value in learning to do it well. So this month we’re going back to the blank page to write some blank verse. Learn more from Rowan here.

Please remember to read the submission guidelines before you press post or hit send. Have a favorite yeah writer or two? Why not ask them to be your writing partner? Everyone needs another set of eyes to point out the typos, word repetitions, content errors, and ungainly phraseologies in our posts.

Stay in the know: sign up for our mailer today! We promise not to spam you. Or stop by the coffeehouse and meet some of the people behind the words! Also, check back in to yeah write tomorrow to find out what March’s nonfiction know how and poetry slam form are.

Yeah write #308 fiction|poetry writing challenge is open for submissions!

Basic yeah write guidelines: 750 word limit; your entry can be dated no earlier than this past Sunday; fiction or poetry only.

How to submit and fully participate in the challenge:

  1. In the sidebar of this week’s post, please grab the code beneath the challenge grid badge and paste it into the HTML view of your entry
  2. Follow the InLinkz instructions after clicking “add your link” to upload your entry to this week’s challenge grid
  3. Your entry should appear immediately on the grid if you don’t receive an error message
  4. Please make the rounds to read all the entries in this week’s challenge
  5. Consider turning off moderated comments and CAPTCHA on your own blog

Submissions for this week’s challenges will close on Wednesday at 10pm ET. Voting will then open immediately thereafter and close on Thursday at 10pm ET. The winners, as always, will be celebrated on Friday.

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