Writing Week Day #1: Write What You Know but Not All That You Know and Only What You Know You Love

Monkey-typing

Since this month marks five years of Stuff Fundies Like being in existence, I’m going to take a break from writing strictly about fundamentalism this week and write about something else that is near and dear to my heart and that is: writing itself. The essence of SFL is people telling their stories, comparing notes, and talking to each other — it’s a community full of the flawed, the funny, and the fabulous. I’d love to encourage more of you to strike out and find your own voice, even as I’m afraid that I may not be up to the competition if you all did!

Although SFL started five years ago, I’ve been writing in one form or another for almost a decade now and from time to time people send me questions about how to start a blog, how to create an online community, and how to write in general. I don’t write as many original pieces for SFL anymore, because adding commentary to the pictures, videos, and lectures that fundamentalism itself is producing is about all I have time for at the moment. Life marches on.

I will start by saying that I might very well be the wrong person to be talking about writing or blogging at all. SFL is a very active community but there are blogs that are much larger, much more popular, and far less prone to putting their readers into blinding rages. It’s also worth nothing that I’ve also started several other blogging projects along the way that have more or less starved to death for lack of interest by both the readers and the writer alike. Failure can be a great teacher.

Finally, there is also the danger that once I start pulling back the curtain to look at what makes SFL work that SFL itself won’t stand up well to the scrutiny. So by all means let’s get started as quickly as possible…

Day #1: Write What You Know but Not All That You Know and Only What You Know You Love.

When you set out to write — especially if that writing is a blog — you must be so completely consumed by the topic at hand that you would write about it even if you knew for a fact that only a handful of people would ever read it. This can’t be just a sudden inspiration or passing fancy. It has to be the kind of slow, smoldering burn that perpetually lights up a corner of your soul. Is there something that ALWAYS gets you excited when it comes up in conversation? Some topic that is never quite far from your conscious thought? Start there.

Don’t end there. Take that broader idea and refine it down to its core. There are about ten gajillion (not a made up number) blogs about politics or religion or why moms who don’t breastfeed their vaccinated children are monsters. Once you’ve got a topic try to understand where your story fits into the larger picture and what your voice has to add to the conversation. Find the uniqueness that is your background, your skills, your perspective and craft that into something you can share.

Once you’ve done all that then all that remains is to sit down and write it. And write it. And write it. Then throw all of that away, refine your topic further, find a better hook, and write it some more. Share it with a few trusted friends, then ignore most of their advice and use the frustration you feel at being misunderstood or as fuel to write and write some more.

Have you got a blog, book or newspaper column (do they still do those?) inside of you? I’d love to hear what you’ve tried, what you fear, and what the topics are that light up your world.

67 thoughts on “Writing Week Day #1: Write What You Know but Not All That You Know and Only What You Know You Love”

  1. The only things I’ve ever had published are a couple letters to the editor (in the days before the internet!) Now I suppose that will make me sound like a crank! Haha. But it definitely showed me that I write best when I find something I am passionate about.

    BTW, I love reading fiction and I am very disappointed to find that my characters are wooden and my plots dull when I try to write fiction. I’d like to author a children’s picture book.

  2. My most notable writing has been on the Huffington Post, where I comment on items ranging from politics to science to marriage and divorce.

    I find I have a lot to say. The editors wisely put in a 250-word limit, and I have lost count of the times I had to pare my writing down to meet that limit! (Yes, you have noted my excessive zeal for long submissions here as well!)

    If you wish to see a very liberal perspective on a lot of issues, I am rtgmath there as well.

  3. Very inspiring – Thank you! I’ve had a particular Christian/SciFi/Romance novel in my head for five years. I’ve made many notes about it but havent started the “writing.”

    1. Just in case you need a kick in the pants to get started on it, it’s not too late to join some of us other SFL folks at National Novel Writing Month. (nanowrimo.org) :mrgreen:

  4. I used to love writing, and from what I was told, I was good at it. I love all the detective work that goes into thoroughly researching a topic, I love browsing the thesaurus, searching for a word with just the right nuance for the emotion or idea I’m attempting to convey. I love the process of editing my writing; it’s like taking a shrub and clipping here, trimming there, and before you know it, you have created a living sculpture, a work of art that some will admire, others disparage, but will certainly be the catalyst for dialogue.

    I used to write poetry: free verse, haiku, limerick, cinquain, diamantΓ©. Creating a turn of phrase or building an image with letters and sounds was intensely pleasurable.

    I don’t do any of it anymore. I used to blame it on being too busy, on wanting to focus my energies and time on my family. I blamed it on not being an authority on a subject (certainly, there are thousands of people more qualified and experienced than I to address this topic), or low self-esteem.

    I see my children’s writing projects. Their teachers have told me they are both gifted storytellers, with a level of detail and imagery they rarely see in elementary and middle school students. And I think, “They inherited that from me. Maybe I should start writing again.”

    I wonder, though. After reading your post, Darrell, I realized I simply don’t have that ember burning in my soul anymore. The spark is gone, and I’m not sure whether it can be rekindled.

      1. That’s incredibly poignant, Clara English. I quite like the idea of passing on our embers to light the spark in our children.

        Perhaps one day, after the season of intensely needing mom’s life force has passed, our children may rekindle us by using the very creativity we nurtured in them.

  5. SFL has taught me that my childhood — while bizarre and disturbed in so many ways — wasn’t unusual for other children of fundamentalists. It gave me a sense of community. I wasn’t the freak I’d always thought I was.

    I’ve written a children’s book, and I will have another book, a book for adults, published in a bit over a month.

    My other writing, my work writing, can be found all over the place. I help web designers build websites for medical/legal professionals. It may not be exciting, but it’s a paycheck. And I’m good at it.

    Two of my kids have also inherited my writing zeal. One is a dedicated journaler, sitting down every night to chronicle his day and add colorful illustrations in the margin. The other loves poetry and fiction. He’s surprisingly good at it for a kid his age, imo.

  6. Inspiration, or maybe some would say possession comes in fits and starts. There are times that george and I conspire to paint word pictures that I enjoy reading over and over myself. Then there are seasons of desert wandering where words are as dry as the landscape and as hard to find as water in the Sahara.

    Then there are times when the brain has much to say but the fingers go on strike or just refuse to strike the keys the brain is calling for; george revels in those moments.

    The trap I have fallen into has often been that os believing I have something to say that is important. That my words make a difference. That I can make a difference. That is when the other Don show up and reminds me of all the failures, all the wrong conclusions and decisions from my past. I am reminded of all thoses conversations where they just smiled and shook their head and proceeded to explain to me that even though I may have been right, I just wasn’t right enough, and in that situation I may as well have been completely wrong.

    So even when I think I might have something to say, often I don’t say it because,

    Lastly, and I’ll close, the main reason I do write, and why I’m so verbose is I am seeking validation. Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s all about me. Everyone knows that. It’s all about me. Me, me, me , me…. you know… ME. I, me, myself, my, mine. It’s all about me and getting as many people as possible to recognize that fact so my ego is stroked and inflated. I should have been Calledβ„’ to preach… but as much as my ego needs validation, my ego is also timid and I am not a Type “A” personality. The few times I have stepped out to lead, I soon turned around only to find a couple of courious onlookers and a lost dog following me.

    As much as I would love to be a writer, quick of wit, able to turn a phrase, and do it in a grammatically correct fashion, I just don’t have the drive, or the gift to do so. *sigh* πŸ™

    1. Don, I enjoy reading your thoughts. I find comfort in your homespun writings and inspiration in your tirades. You are Don, and you write yourself into your words: quirks, foibles, inspiration, life lessons…all there, exposed and honest. Please don’t shortchange yourself by comparing apples to oranges.

      There are many genres of art. If Grandma Moses had compared herself to Rembrandt, she likely never would have picked up a brush, making the world a poorer place. Folk art brings me just as much enjoyment as fine art; there is worth and beauty in it all.

  7. I’ve been blogging consistently for over 10 years now. I’ve been able to maintain a pace of at least one post per week for that entire time. It’s a challenge, and it always amazes me how blogs like SFL keep up the pace with multiple posts per week.

    As for concentrating on a topic, my blog has the word “Random” in its name, and I’ve stuck to that. πŸ™‚ There are certain topics that come up more than others – photography, history, etc. – but it gives me the leeway to write about other things.

    For other writing projects, since retiring from my day job I’m currently working on a book of local history that I hope to get published someday.

  8. I’ve never liked the advice “write what you know.” That’s how we end up with a lot of writing about writers writing (or not writing.)

    Better advice is this: know what you write about. Write about anything you want, just make sure you do your homework.

    1. The Nobel Prize committee for literature has expressed their disappointment for American authors, due to the perceived narcissism often found in semiautobiographical novels. They take the “write what you know” half-truth with them to the creative writing masters program. They return with a degree that is meant for industry networking, and publish forgettable crap.

      1. The Nobel Prize committee for literature has expressed their disappointment for AmericanS authors

        Fixed that for you Aaron. πŸ˜‰

        In all seriousness though: Don, I love reading what you have to say. πŸ™‚

    2. Stephen King writes what he knows… Usually. How many of his best books are about a writer or a schoolteacher?(The Shining..:the Dead Zone…Bag of Bones..Misery..) Or set in rural Maine (It…the Tommyknockers…Insomnia…Bag of Bones…Dreamcatcher… even his novel about the JFK assassination begins in Maine)

      He has written some 50+ novels, but his most convincing works come from his background, living in Maine, teaching High School (Carrie… Christine, etc.) and professional writing).

      He does good research outside these familiar parameters as well, but the works cited above “ring truer” (to me) because of the innate familiarity that flows through them. Of course, in Stephen King’s works, it helps (as he says) that; “I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.”

      1. There is something to be said for King setting his stories almost exclusively in settings where he has lived (Maine, Colorado, Florida), and having main characters who have had the same jobs that he has had (teacher, writer, factory/mill worker.)

        My problem with that is, after a while, I get tired of reading about the teacher/writer/mill worker who lives in Maine (or Florida.) It starts to feel like clumping down the same old path. (“Road Virus Heads North” — I’m looking at you. Why couldn’t the protagonist have been, say, a TV reporter who collects scary stuff? Why did he have to be a horror writer?)

  9. Yep, I started a blog chronicling my exit from fundyland and the stuff I’m discovering about God as I get my head screwed on straight. It’s rarely updated and even more rarely read, but when I get an idea for a topic I can’t shake it until its written. Sometimes it’s hard to not just parrot the same topic on SFL. The comments especially help me wade through the subject and get a better understanding.

  10. That chimp’s typewriter reminds me . . . I attended an IFB Christian school. When I was in 6th grade (1983ish) I took typing. Of course we were small, poor, and 30 yrs. behind the rest of the world, so instead of learning on computer keyboards or at least electric typewriters, we had old donated Royal 1950-60s manual typewriters. (My fingers are still quite strong from the efforts of those early days–I regularly punish these less durable modern keyboards into submission.)

    It was not all bad, however. I did learn to type. And I figured out that you could take a pen apart, insert the ink cartridge into top of the typewriter, seat it firmly on the G or H key, hit it with intention, and presto! Deadly projectile. I was able on numerous occasions to make it stick in the cork board at the front of the classroom. As you might guess, I got paddled regularly when I was in school.

      1. Hey, that’s not a joke! You can also backspace the same number of letters in the word you want to bold and retype it. One good thing about growing up in fundie schools: if the world ever goes to shit and we lose our technological advances, I can rely on my Stone Age skills to survive.

        1. True dat! I do know how to use a manual type writer, the pressure required to type on them, how to type a 1 when it doesn’t appear on the keyboard, how to manually use white out, how to superscript, subscript, underline, set margins, etc.!

    1. My kid used an ink pen to make a cross bow. Talk about deadly. 😯

      Also not totally sure what that says about my kids.

      On another note: Totally impressed with your childhood skills. lol.

      1. Dear Persnickety Polecat and nico:

        YOU guys must have been the inspiration for the backyard ballistics movement … πŸ˜† πŸ˜†

        Christian Socialist

        1. I have a pretty fabulous book about backyard ballistics, if anyone wants to borrow it.
          Each project has a bunch of disclaimers about safety, yadda yadda, but you can actually put together some seriously scary stuff with the ideas in the book.

    2. This is another of my digressions, brought on by the school weaponry comments.
      During my Sophomore and Junior years, a number of us had what looked to be innocuous cheap Bic pens in our pockets. Upon further review, they seemed to be missing their ink cartridges. They were great mini blowguns for our homemade straight-pin and yarn darts, though.

      1. I’m embarrassed to admit (kind of) that when serving in the Navy, we found that if you took apart one of the ubiquitous Government issued black retractable ball point pens (made by Skilcraft), you could tape the metal band to the end of the lower barrel at a 45 degree angle, tamp down a small metal screen into the metal band, and end up with a serviceable Hash Pipe. (Just writing “what I know”)…

        1. I don’t remember, but you could use it without the screen, as long as you angled the metal ring against the opening in the barrel correctly. Then, if the chunk attended was big enough, you would be okay until it became mostly ash. At that point, you must toke very guardedly. My trachea experienced a tiny burning ember, and I’ve had ashes in my mouth on many occasions. But usually, the hash is tightly compacted, and even without a screen, the ash would stay put. Thanks for making me remember all that, btw..

  11. I once had the idea of turning a series of Sunday school lesson I had put together into a book. The series was on unnamed or little known Biblical characters. It’s purpose was to use their actions as examples of things not normally taught in Sunday School, or at least Fundy Sunday School.
    I picked up a book by one of my favorite storytellers on writing, and after reading it realized why I use hand tools to make my living.

    Maybe someday I’ll try again.

  12. Dear Darrell:

    I’d write, but I’m sure that the CIA, NSA, Homeland Insecurity, Mossad and other bourgeoisie busybodies are waiting for me to say the wrong thing. I grant that my life is worth little, but the dog will miss me. So I shut my mouth [mostly] and pay my taxes.

    Christian Socialist

      1. Dear semp:

        I believe you. Moreover, plenty of people have been saying that for many years. This might require that we rethink what is meant by ‘official secrets.’ πŸ˜‰

        Christian Socialist

  13. I started writing online as a religion blogger for the St. Louis Post Dispatch. It was a good baptism-by-fire experience, as back then (around 5 years ago)there a faithful community of trolls who attacked everything I wrote.

    In 2010 I started a personal blog because I wanted to be able to write about whatever personal or silly stuff was on my mind. I still do that sometimes, but it’s also become much more of a platform for my opinions, on patriarchy in the church, on my struggles with depression, movie reviews, etc.. I’m still small potatoes, but it’s cool. I have enough readers to get a decent conversation going now and then. And the writing itself is very therapeutic. What I really love is the times when I read an old post and think, “That was really well written!” Of course, I’ve some old groaners, too. πŸ™‚

  14. In my relatively short time on this site, I’ve noticed that there are a lot of very articulate people who comment here.

    Unfortunately, unlike some others posting, my dreams of hearing lyrics I’ve written playing on the Country Western station are about as realistic as those of the kid who wants to be the next Hank Aaron.

    For what it’s worth, here’s a story that’s missing a chorus– please excuse the length:

    He shivered alone when the cold rains came down
    As he sat by the wayside near Jericho town.
    Then one bright morning he heard people say,
    “Jesus the Rabbi is headed this way!”

    “Thou Son of David have mercy on me!”
    Cried the poor blind man who wanted to see.
    This Jesus he’d heard could turn water to wine–
    The Branch off of David, and also The Vine.

    Now many were troubled by this beggar’s cry
    And urged he be silent while Jesus passed by.
    But he cried yet again with a voice clear and loud–
    Over the din of the uncaring crowd.

    “Thou Son of David have mercy on me!”
    Would God attend to a blind beggar’s plea?
    The soul that is hungry and thirsty he’ll fill:
    The cry rose to Heaven and Jesus stood still.

    The Savior called for him: he rose to his feet
    While casting his garment away in the street.
    That old, tattered rag (all that he could afford)
    Was left in the dust when he came to the Lord.

    Blind Bartimaeus that day received sight–
    Out of the darkness and into the light.
    Given a gift he could never repay.
    He followed the Savior beginning that day.

    1. Ray Boltz could have made a good song of that, I think. Or maybe Johnny Cash 😎 My own attempts at poetry have only been in the structured rhyming style.

  15. Sometimes it takes me hours to translate a couple of thoughts into text.

    I really want to write fiction, but something’s holding me back. I want to start with a children’s book and maybe a couple of short stories before I attempt a novel. So far I just have a bunch of plot concepts that I hastily put down in a notebook whenever inspiration struck.

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