Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Write What You Know...or Feel
We've all heard the dictum: "Write what you know." We've also heard all writing is "biographical in nature". And so we tie these two phrases together. Often these words have been used to tell writers who are writing outside their experience that perhaps they should stay with the familiar. A blue collar worker writing about life and death in the arctic circle? A teacher in a small town writing about mountain men in the early eighteen hundreds? What?
Perhaps we need to examine the above dictums from slightly different perspectives. Perhaps we should listen to Robert Frost: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader." Perhaps writing "what we know" isn't a concrete direction about environment, but a direction to peer within, to seek the truth of the internal. Writing "what we know" is allowing ourselves to experience an emotion, to feel it truthfully and deeply, and then to convey that feeling through the written word.
If we don't "know" the feeling of isolation, if we have never felt that, then it is difficult to convey that feeling. If we don't "know" the feeling of joy or the feeling of profound sorrow, then we can't share that feeling with a reader. However MOST ADULT WRITERS KNOW A TREMENDOUS SPECTRUM OF EMOTIONS. So, the key, the key is to be able to tap into your feelings and communicate those feelings through words to your reader; to write so that your readers are able to feel what you feel. When that happens your writing assumes a mantle of truth.
Steinbeck wrote: "No man really knows about other human beings. The best he can do is to suppose that they are like himself. " Writing is about knowing yourself. Then, it's about helping others know you while at the same time identifying with universal traits.
"Facts and truth really don't have much to do with each other. "--William Faulkner.