Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Write What You Know

Writing about What You Don’t Know . . .

Some of the regular visitors to this blog know I’m a Bahá’í… 

Yet, even though both my parents were Christian ministers, I’m not prone to preaching ( though, I have been known to step up on a soapbox from time to time :-)


There’s a WebSite called BahaiTeachings.Org where many of the Faith’s principles are given practical explanations—applied to some of the knottiest and thorny problems of our Age…

Lo and behold, three days ago, I spotted an article on that site related directly to Writing…

The title is, Why I Write about What I Don’t Know.

An excerpt:

“As a recently published novelist, I wondered before publication if a photograph of my black face should be reproduced on the book’s inside cover.

“Why? Well, I wrote a historical novel called “City of Desire” about a young white woman who, because of the severely limited options before her, chose to become a prostitute in 1830’s New York. Based on a true story, her rise and fall fascinated me, and I wanted to understand her character, her choices, and the culture that molded her. As a man, too, I wanted to understand the struggle of women to be free.”

Then, approaching very near the current hot topic of “Cultural Appropriation“, the author said:

“I heard those ‘identity police’ voices in my head: ‘How dare you? Who do think you are? How can you possibly know what it is to be a white woman? Stay in your place. Write about what you know, and only what you know. If you do otherwise, you are appropriating our space and taking from us what is legitimately and exclusively ours.’”

Then, tackling the too oft-repeated exhortation, “Write What You Know”, the author says:

“If all writers followed this admonition, then we would write only memoirs or autobiographies. Painters would paint only self-portraits. Actors would only play themselves. Instead, artists do much more, and have done so since the beginning of storytelling and artistry itself. Artists extend themselves into uncharted territory so they can imagine and empathize with others—so they can make a human connection unmitigated by the artificial barriers we erect to keep us apart.”

To find out if the author put the picture of their black face on the inside cover, and other reflections about what writers should consider, I encourage you to read the whole piece

I’ll finish this post with a quote from the article, from the Founder of my Faith, Bahá’u’lláh:

“… the true worth of artists and craftsmen should be appreciated, for they advance the affairs of mankind …. True learning is that which is conducive to the well-being of the world, not to pride and self-conceit, or to tyranny, violence and pillage.”

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What Do You Know? ~ How Do You Know It?

Reading and writing both need knowledge to function and both give knowledge if done right.

Publishing should contain knowledge from both readers and writers.

From the previous post, Do Writers Always Know What They’re Writing About?:

“Over-used, old writing maxim: ‘Write what you know.’

“Misunderstood, old human maxim: ‘Know thyself.’”

And, in the post, The Knowledge A Writer Needs . . ., I postulated four broad areas of necessary knowledge: Reality, World, Social, and Self.

The question today is, When Do We Begin Learning?


One year old?

After our first breath?

Annie Murphy Paul is a magazine journalist and book author who writes about the biological and social sciences.”

One of her books has a fascinatingly long title: The Cult of Personality: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves.

She’s also wrote, Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives.

From that last title, it becomes apparent her position is that we all begin gathering knowledge in the womb

Does this knowledge change the maxim, Know Thyself, or the “rule” that a writer, Write What They Know?

Do, please, enjoy watching this video of Annie as she explores learning before birth and do, please, leave a comment :-)

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