Monday, October 10, 2011

The Difference Between Knowing and Understanding: Successful Writers Get It!

We were discussing this issue during our Sunday School lesson yesterday and I realized the idea is equally as important when it comes to writing. What is the difference between knowing and understanding? In other words, at what point does the process of writing move from just knowing what goes into a story to really understanding why those elements need to be there and what purpose they serve?

I honestly have to say, when I turn down many submissions, it comes down to seeing writing that is, as best as I can describe it, immature. Sure the author has included many of the required elements to tell a good story, but in the end, the story is just lacking something. That finesse! That polish. That understanding of why they did what they did.

There is no single thing an author can do to achieve this level of understanding other than taking the time to really work at his or her craft. This is that time element that I am always talking about when we talk about publishing. For some authors, this may take 1 year. For others, it may take 30 some odd years and who knows how many manuscripts.

Keeping this in mind, this is what I think about when I talk about an author being successful. Sure, he or she may have written several stories. The author may even be published, but that is not saying they fully get it. We see this frequently when we see authors teaching workshops, writing blogs and what not, and trying to simplify everything to a single forumla. Somehow impying to their audience that "this query letter got me published" or "starting your story this way is a sure fire way of selling the book." Ugh, they don't quite get it.

If, for those of you reading this, you start to really question whether you "know" or "understand" and this idea is giving you a headache already - GOOD! Keep thinking. Keep working at it. You will know when you truly UNDERSTAND!



  1. I've always thought of this as the difference between reading Shakespeare to an audience and performing Shakespeare so that it comes alive.

    In one, it's kind of hard to follow because the readers are just spouting words they don't understand and cannot communicate the meaning.

    In the other, you lose yourself because the actors are beaming their understanding straight to your brain and it's positively magic.

  2. Very philosophical Scott. I've always had to understand why I have to do something, or the meaning behind the direction. A standard "because it's what's always been done," just doesn't do it for me. This holds true in life, in work and in writing. When you understand why, it isn't so hard to remember it and use it in future situations. I also really liked Alii's point - well said.

  3. Hmmmm, this makes MUCH more sense to me than those sure fire formulas. I love when understanding dawns, no matter what the topic. Understanding the flesh and blood of my stories - and why they're all in there - is an excellent goal. Thanks so much :)