Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Keep Moving Away From What You Know

In Glimmer, a book about Bruce Mau’s design theory written by Warren Berger, Berger writes:

As we age, our focus of attention widens and we can actually take in more information. We also become better problem solvers -- able to take the information soaked up from one situation and apply it to another. And at the same time, when we take new information and combine it with what we already know, this creates opportunities for “smart recombinations” -- a technique used by designers to generate new possibilities by connecting bits and pieces of existing ones.

How do you design your life so that you can continue to take in new and useful information? The answer, Bruce Mau suggests, is to intention and constantly “keep moving away from what you know.” People tend to design their lives and careers so that they remain on firm and familiar turf, intellectually speaking. They go with what they know.

Authors are always told, “write what you know,” but apparently that isn’t the wisest decision if you want to continue to expand your expertise. Some creative writing instructors have changed “write what you know” to “know what you write.” In other words, research, which is one way to keep moving away from what you know. Another way is to travel then use the locales visited as the basis for stories.

Do you write what you know or write what you know? How do you find out what you need to know? Do you keep moving away from what you know, or do you tend to remain on familiar turf? Does your writing also move away from what you know, so you end up writing books you had no idea how to write when you began writing them?

That last question may seem silly, but that’s what I do -- write books I have no idea how to write. If I know what and how to write them, I don’t see any reason to actually put the words on paper. I need the challenge of figuring out how to write something I’ve never written before. Obviously, this is not the way most authors feel or act, considering the plethora of series.

A major drawback to this need for challenge is that since I don’t know how to write the books I write, it gives me a good reason to procrastinate while I figure it out. A major plus is when the book comes together, such as in my upcoming novel Light Bringer, and I find myself astonished at having written something that seems beyond my capability to write. But I did write it.

As for moving away from what I know, I’ve been doing that for the past eight months. I am no longer in the same place, living the same life, writing the same stories as I did back then, and I am continually trying to find new ways of moving away from what I once knew, which I am hoping will add depth to future writings and meaning to my life.

What about you?

Let’s talk.


Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I.


Joanne said...

I often write what I want to know. I'll start with a familiar situation, and take it to what-if places that can be lived out on the page :)

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Super question! A little of both. I love to research, so I find myself learning about science, technology, and even history on my lastest works in progess.

But I tend to write about locations I know. So, that means they're often set in California... even if that California has been transformed by a weird event that reshapes time and therefore terrain.

If I only wrote what I knew- I'd be writing about homeschooling my kids and wandering around a very ordinary world. I'm drawn to fantasy. What can I do? :)