‘Write what you know.’ Really? Reply

This week we’re looking at selecting material for writing fiction. Writers are often told to write what they know, but what does that advice mean? The video ends with a writing exercise to practice the skill of writing what we don’t know – or what we’ve only just learned about.

Zoe Heller on ‘Write what you know’
Nathan Englander on ‘Write what you know’

Writing exercise: Choose from the following list of places somewhere you’ve never been and write a detailed description of what a character experiences as she or he travels through this location.

The harbour of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Aabpara Market in Islamabad, Pakistan
The Cuillin Mountains on the Isle of Skye, Scotland
The Riverfront in St Charles, Missouri, United States
Brick Lane in London, England
Namakunde, Angola
Dalton Post, Yukon, Canada
Keleti Railway Station, Budapest, Hungary

If you want to make it harder, change the date; for instance, try to describe the location as it would have been in 1982 or 1956.
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Adverbs of manner Reply

What’s the problem with adverbs of manner? Well, nothing necessarily, but whenever you use one, you should study it closely. There’s an example right there – ‘closely’ is an adverb of manner that’s redundant because to study something already implies giving it close attention.


read video transcript