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Quote Of The Day - Wonked Edition

"Creative writing teachers should be purged until every last instructor who has uttered the words "Write what you know" is confined to a labor camp. Please, talented scribblers, write what you don't. The blind guy with the funny little harp who composed The Iliad , how much combat do you think he saw?"
P.J. O'Rourke, in The Washington Post, from his shredding of blogger Ana Marie Cox's first novel.


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Comments (11)

Thing is, "write what you k... (Below threshold)

Thing is, "write what you know" just means most of the students will never write anything.

Which saves trees.

Yeah, I had a creative writ... (Below threshold)

Yeah, I had a creative writing class where the mantra was, "write what you know." I think it comes from Solzhenitsyn's nobel prize speech (the one he couldn't leave Russia to give). It's an easy thing to say for someone who spent time in the Gulags and in Stalin's cancer wards.

I took a few of those cours... (Below threshold)
Dan S:

I took a few of those courses, seminars, workshops too. I HATED that mantra. Taken in proper context and light it makes perfect sense, but your typical (I was gonna say "average," but most of these sorts are considerably below average) creative writing teacher/professor failed all logic courses, could not frame an argument to save her life, and can only arrange words, not meaning. A Confederacy of Dunces indeed.

P.J. has the right idea: labor camp. That is the key to understanding the lost (I'm sure, forever) meaning of "write what you know." You can't know something in the sense meant without a heck of a lot of work. As in, say... worldbuilding. You can live it like Alexander S., or you can fully imagine it, or you can research it, but in any case you must earn your knowledge by serious work.

If I hadn't met so many creative writing types, I'd think McGehee might be onto something. Sadly, he's not if he means THAT is how those teachers mean it.

"I won't spoil the plot for... (Below threshold)

"I won't spoil the plot for you. There isn't one." is another classic from the same review, altho not of the same systemic significance.

If I hadn't met so many ... (Below threshold)

If I hadn't met so many creative writing types, I'd think McGehee might be onto something. Sadly, he's not if he means THAT is how those teachers mean it.

I never took a creative writing course. Anyway, I'm sure the trees appreciate it.

Triticale, curse him, alrea... (Below threshold)

Triticale, curse him, already beat me to the funniest line in the review.

Where's Frank Rich when you... (Below threshold)

Where's Frank Rich when you need him most?

If the old addage had unive... (Below threshold)

If the old addage had universal merit, we would never have gotten most of the worlds great fiction. And the entire genres of Science Fiction and Fantasy. And liberal political tracts.

If you know it, it isn't fi... (Below threshold)

If you know it, it isn't fiction, right? Unless it is fiction someone else wrote it first, then it's plagiarism.

Creative writing is to create. And it is a painful and labor-intensive process. And it kinda gets hold of you.

And you all will thank God I will never be published.

Writing what you know is al... (Below threshold)

Writing what you know is all well and good when you're learning to write, but once you know how to write, it just makes more crappy memoirs that end up on the $20-or-more table at your local Super-Sized Book Store.

Think about sci-fi authors. How many of them have been to alien planets? Think THEY were writing what they know?

This is pretty funny:... (Below threshold)

This is pretty funny:
"...What's French for 'Barge right in, the door's wide open'?"

I'm also refreshed to read that O'Rourke, like me, has never seen Wonkette. Well, I've "seen" it, just once, but just never read it. And never planned to.

Excellent column, Kevin, by O'Rourke, so thanks for the read.






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