Sunday, April 6, 2008

write what only you know

As deadlines for papers hover dangerously close to me, I find myself thinking about and turning to genuine creative writing. Yes, I am reading fantastic pieces of french literature like Tristan et Yseut and Le Vice-Consul, but when it comes to writing about these works of art, French professors expect anything from you but creativity.

And this is where I struggle...and reach for my book of Emily Dickinson poetry.

With french essays, the professors expect you to take a text and basically vomit out anything that could be analyzed about it. Except, it's not encouraged to look through a certain perspective or to come up with your own ideas about the literature (Maybe this is why I didn't major in English in the first place). I find myself shying away from phrases like "impending doom" opting for "destiny" instead.

So again, I find myself turning to my own work, which has admittedly been gathering dust this semester. I find myself doing this because I avoid the daunting task of writing about the vaguest topics like "destiny" and I am reminded that good writers write what they know. I do not know anything about destiny. Why am I writing about it?

But still, the task of "writing what you know" has a vague attachment to it. Write what you know, write what you know...because how can you possibly write what you don't know? I'd think anything you write would have to be something you knew. And unfortunately, dull work comes out of "writing what you know."

Write what you know: The city of Detroit used to be a major trafficking area for alcohol during the Prohibition years. (vague, general, basic history lesson)

Write what you know: I know that it is cold outside in Paris, France at this very moment. (still, more specific, but a lot of people also know that)

These facts just seem to be spat out from general knowledge and observation and will not inspire great writing. Then I remember a particularly interesting writing workshop I went to a few years back with Professor Anita Skeen where she attempted to tackle this difficult roadblock on the way to good writing. She emphasized that you have to narrow the "write what you know" mantra down to spark a discovery of self experience: "write what only you know." Now that sounds like something worth writing, and maybe, someday, reading.

Write what only you know:

. . .

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If the whole writing/publishing thing doesn't pan out, you should look at photography. You have a gifted eye......
We miss you!