How Writers Write · Musings

What IS writing? What Does It Mean? &, Writing What You Know

What does writing mean?

For some, it is just scribbling something on a piece of paper. For others, it’s a struggle to try and express what they want to put down in words. I have heard it said a lot, “I don’t know how to write”, or, “I don’t write well.”

This always boggled me. First of all, I did not like to hear people say they can’t do something, because that is a negative way of thinking. Secondly, I hear the lack of self-love and self-esteem and acceptance of self-failure in that statement. It shakes me inside, because I can relate to it. I lack self-love and self-esteem, sometimes.

So when I hear people say, “I can’t write”, I always encourage them, “Yes, you can. You could if you really wanted to.”

Yet there is more to it than that. Can every person really write something if they want to? The obvious answer is, yes. But would that writing be good writing?

What makes writing jump off a page? What is it that makes us sit back after finishing a book and say, “Gosh, that was good!”

Is the author’s use of syntax? Their great big vocabulary? That is what seems to be the thought of people who say, “I can’t write.” Because after they say that, I noticed, they go on to talk about how bad they were in English in high school, or how they “can hardly spell.”

This doesn’t seem right to me, not just because of the inner negativity in the statement. It seems wrong to me because writing isn’t about technicalities, when you get down to it. Writing is about expressing yourself. It is about baring your heart.

I have been writing for a long time, but this challenge of what is writing and what does it really mean to write? has never meant so much or been so difficult for me as now, when I am revising a novel.

I just finished reading Ralph Keyes’ book, The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear. It was a super excellent book, and I took notes on it.

What I took away from Keyes’ book is that the best writing is alive and leaps from the page into the hearts of its readers. Why does it do this? How? It does this because the writer put not only their knowledge of their language, their technical skills and clever word arrangements, but also their heart, their self.

Keyes proposed that writers who face fear and even use fear to boost their writing, are good writers. Writers are good when their books speak to people, and their books will not speak to people if they are not speaking in their books something of themselves.

The phrase goes, “Write what you know.” Many seem to take this literally and think, “What? How can I write what I know? I’m in the most boring part of the world, with nothing to do, and no one interesting to talk to. There is nothing to see here. I have nothing to say, if I write about what I know.”

Wrong! Writing what you know makes your writing come alive! Think about it on a deeper spectrum, dig inside of yourself. What scares you, beyond movie monsters and death? What makes your heart tremble in gladness? What makes you cry even when you want to stop the tears from showing?

These are the things that we write about. These are the things we know. Each of us has a different, unique experience as a human being, but each of us, in turn, can relate to something from someone else’s life. The person in Taiwan visiting for business might know about your fears of getting disease in a foreign country and dying, like your grandmother did long ago, your grandmother whose last words were that she did not regret how travel enriched her life. Write about that. You may have no job and have trouble paying the bills. Your ceiling is leaking and you live next to a cement park in a grumpy, lousy city. Write about that. Perhaps your life is simple and you just work, come home, eat pasta, and go out to work again the next day. Write about that. You don’t have to have gone anywhere special. You don’t have to be a stunt double or a race car driver. You don’t have to take vacations in the Bahamas.

Write about what moves you, what drives you, what scares you, and someone, somewhere is bound to relate to it. Your words will make an impact. Your writing will effect someone. Maybe it won’t make you famous, but does that really matter? Is that what we are really looking for in life? No. We want love and affection. We want attention, relationship, expression and acceptance. I know it sounds cheesy, but in all those quotes circling around the Internet, we acknowledge the truth: the things we really want, cannot be bought by money, bribed for, or found by spending two weeks alone in a hammock on the beach (sorry, sister – I know you loved your time in Mexico!).

The real deal is inside of us, reaching out to the heart inside someone else. When we write what we know, when we share what is meaningful to us – whether it is positive or not – we can effect people, and our writing can come alive in amazing flashy colors.

I think this is what writing means to writers, and this is why we keep on doing it: It is living, and sharing that living with others. It is sharing life with more people than we could ever reach in-person, by phone, or email. It is wonderful, and vigorous, breathless, and heart-rending. We can’t stop, even though it makes us cry. Ernest Hemingway said that writing is sitting down and just bleeding. Ralph Keyes affirms this concept in his book, and I agree.

The best writing is what was wrenched from deep inside of us, and now lies on the page for others to experience. I say experience, and not know, because the readers already know it. If the writing speaks to them, it is because they already know the truths that the writer is revealing. Maybe the writer helps them to realize it. Maybe they experience a revelation. But the point is, the reader’s heart is moved in some way, because the writer put their all, their self, into that book.

Anyway, I’ve gone on too long, but thank you for visiting! Please add any comments. If what I said made no sense, it was because it just rambled and flowed out of me. I may have bypassed logic in all the excitement.

Thanks for stopping by!

– Chaitanya



8 thoughts on “What IS writing? What Does It Mean? &, Writing What You Know

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