The Writer’s axiom, “write what you know,” led me to the question: What are the Blogger Axioms? If the rule was, “blog what you know,” then I think there would be far fewer blogs posts. One axiom I did read was, “don’t blog anything that would embarrass a potential employer.” This axiom has no flair. I recognize that an axiom is supposed to be self-evident, but it does not have to be bland.

There is something provocative about writing what one knows about. It implies that the writer has some sort of special knowledge, or a gift, that they are imparting to the world. Ignore the potential for pretension in this. Instead, think of some kind of writing–fiction, nonfiction, poetry, whatever–that made you sit up and say, “Holy shit. This is good.” Writing that set your brain on fire. You don’t have to actually share the list you come up with (although I’d appreciate it if you did in the comments), just recognize what makes those particular stories so fantastic.

Even a good research paper, or journal article, can have that effect. These scholarly works aim to inform the world with some new bit (or twist) of information, including HOW they came across this new knowledge. In essence, this is just the story of how the knowledge was discovered. The best of the papers, in my opinion, share this information and bring you into that research.Granted, it has been a long time since I read a journal article, but I do seem to remember being blown away by Field Theory and Cognitive Dissonance papers.

When one writes what they know about, they can impart some of their own experiences. They can create, or recreate, their story in a method that makes the reader a participant, not an observer.

Good blogs should be able to do this as well.

So what do I know? Not much. I know a lot about juveniles and delinquency. I know a little about music. I know more about scifi/fantasy than I care to admit, and I pretend to know more about Irish history than I really do. I don’t know nearly enough about Chicago to write novels about–but I do know enough to post about my city.

There is another interesting facet about this idea: The more one writes, the more one learns. Part of this has to do with reading and researching a topic; however, when writing a story, or a scene, characters begin to develop their own sense of self. What a writer starts with begins to morph into something else. The same holds true for blogs. Blogs change over time, especially if the writer blogs about what they know about.

There are books that I need to read–books on writing, specifically–that I think supplement my point. However, I’d rather hear from readers about their experiences with reading and writing.

5 thoughts on “Axiom

  1. Reading just about anything published makes you a better writer. No matter what the subject matter is, reading exposes you to new ideas. It also exposes you to correct grammar and spelling–two things the Internet needs badly!

  2. A couple of thoughts on books about writing – first, any idiot can write a book on writing. It doesn’t mean their advice is good or useful to your own style. Understand, I’m not talking about style manuals or books on how to write effective research papers. If you’re looking for non-fiction advice, there will be a ton of it out there, from (probably) credible sources. They’ll have names like Kaplan and Barron’s on the spine.

    If you’re looking for fiction-writing advice, check the author’s own publishing history before you buy. There are plenty of writing how-to books out there whose authors have never, ever published anything other than that very book. Or their other titles are scattered throughout the self-help genre and have little else to do with writing (How to Make a Salad! How to Fix Your Roof! How to Make Money Watching TV!).

    Your best bet – find an author you like. See if he or she has published a writing book. Stephen King’s On Writing had me nodding most of the way through. Other authors might not have written a whole book, but there’ll be advice on their websites when they answer fan mail – Neil Gaiman does it all the time (as a matter of fact, Neil Gaiman’s most oft-repeated advice mirrors Alison’s – read good books. You’ll learn from those).

    Last thing – a lot of people read all kinds of writing how-to books, and hang out on writers’ forums, and blog about how they’re going to write something amazing… but all they’re really doing confusing preparation for procrastination.

    The best way to improve your writing is to sit the hell down and write. Install the google docs offline feature and unplug your ethernet cable or disable your wireless so you’re not tempted to surf after every sentence or two. Set aside an amount of time – a half hour, an hour, whatever, and seriously, honestly, commit to writing in that time. Time spent refilling your coffee or searching for a new song on iTunes doesn’t count. Keep it up, and you’ll see your writing improve.

    It will do so much more for you than all the How to Write books in the world.

    You’ve got chops. I’m all in favor of you writing more.

  3. Write more, read more, learn more.

    Oh look, there’s an axiom for you.

    Setting aside a set time to write is a great idea. It’s also a good practice.

    However, I am not one ot advocate disconnecting from the web when doing so. Part of this is because, I normally use the web as reference for things. Even when writing wow stuff, I’ll have multiple pages open so that I can reveiw this conversation or that phrasing.

    That’s just me, though. Because once I start writing, it can be hard to stop.

  4. This is a good point – web as reference for writing is indeed useful.

    But web as “I don’t know how to finish this sentence oh hey what’s Ted Leo up to today?” is not.

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