Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

The Knowledge A Writer Needs . . .

knowledge for writers It’s often been said a writer should write what they know.

I, personally, don’t feel this means you can’t write about people or situations that you’ve never experienced directly.

If a writer had to stick to only things they’ve actually, directly experienced, humanity would have lost many of its finest stories

Some of you may have found what I’ve said so far to be extremely obvious; but, some folks haven’t questioned writing maxims and have spent years trying to do what they want to write about—swimming with sharks, eating poison then purgative, killing small animals, and worse.

Still, there is a way in which a writer needs to “know” what they’re writing about.

They can read of other’s shark swimming, talk to poison-eaters, watch documentaries, call scientists, consult with priests, interview a prostitute

I feel there are four broad areas of knowledge a writer needs to be constantly expanding if they want their stories to resonate with Truth:


Material reality and metaphysical reality (if you must, use “psychological” or “spiritual” for metaphysical)


Knowledge of what’s going on globally (politically, economically, etc.) is important even if your story happens in an isolated mountain valley—your readers will most likely be in the bustling world. And, if you story happens 12 light-years from Earth, your readers will still be stuck herejudging the aliens by Earth standards


This is the arena of human interactions on the personal level—how men and women communicate, how children get what they want, how old people suffer


Self-knowledge is probably the most important kind. Even without much know-how of the other three realms, many a fine, introspective and critically helpful story has been told

What are your thoughts on the knowledge a writer needs?

What experiences have you struggled through for your character’s sake?

Have you ever been in a writing vacuum and needed a knowledge upload?

How far from the “Truth” can a story be and still engage a reader?
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5 responses to “The Knowledge A Writer Needs . . .

  1. Jane Watson December 13, 2011 at 8:55 pm

    What a writer needs to seek in writing, I believe, is emotional truth, which probably also implies the presence of an emotionally true and authentic ‘voice’. A friend of mine wrote an award winning, many times published, story about a tiny alien whose space ship lands in the garden of a single woman. The whole story deals with events that my friend, the writer, has obviously never experienced factually and yet, the reader falls in love with the tiny alien, as the woman in the story does. He feels more ‘real’ for the reader than many other earth based characters could. I believe this is because she experienced and ‘knew’ the emotions that he evoked. She had self knowledge about these feelings and.. she had been able, through writing about this tiny alien, to access her own inner world and translate it onto the page. I guess what I am saying is that WHAT you write about is immaterial, it is how you do it, and how that writing allows you to show your own authentic voice and inner world that counts.


    • Alexander M Zoltai December 13, 2011 at 9:01 pm


      Your whole comment has just raised the worthiness of this blog; but, the following words are especially meaningful:

      “…WHAT you write about is immaterial, it is how you do it, and how that writing allows you to show your own authentic voice and inner world that counts.”

      Is it possible to know the author and title of that story??


  2. Jane Watson December 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    The author is Paddy O’Reilly –
    The story is called “Speak To Me’ and is published in a collection by her called “The End Of The World’, (UQP, ISBN: 978 0 7022 3594 8)
    …And here is an interesting link to an interview she did recently on the online creative arts journal, Verity La, about the writing process:


  3. Alexander M Zoltai December 13, 2011 at 11:49 pm

    Thanks, so much, Jane, for those links :-0


  4. Pingback: What Do You Know? ~ How Do You Know It? « Notes from An Alien

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