The one thing emphasized in any creative writing course is ‘write what you know,’ and that automatically drives a wooden stake through the heart of imagination. If they really understood the mysterious process of creating fiction, they would, ‘You can write about anything you can imagine’ — Tom Robbins
If I consistently followed the mantra ‘write what you know,’ I’d be pretty fucking boring as a storyteller. The mantra is without a doubt, a good place to start when figuring out what it is that you want to write. And it is a great place start if you want to figure out the process of writing and to just start writing.
The phrase popped up ten months ago while having drinks with my best friend and a mutual acquaintance of ours. The acquaintance was curious about my writing so I explained what the first book was about in a rough-and-tumble kind of way. Then I gave him a quick and dirty pitch describing what my next writing project would be about. At the time, it was roughed out in my mind but I gave him the gist of it. He responded by asking me if I was supposed to write what I know, not what I just told him. His initial assessment of me never prepared him for what came out of my mouth. He was utterly befuddled much to my best friend’s delight and amusement.
I have never taken a creative writing course. I don’t think my lack of being formally educated in the art of storytelling via a college course or some sort of university degree makes me less skilled at it. Wait, does double majoring in English and Political Studies count for something? Maybe not.
To be honest, I’ve seen some of the requirements needed to enter master programs for creative writing. No, thanks. Never mind the ‘write what you know’ mantra driving a stake through the heart of imagination, those masters programs will do it for you… well, me for sure. It would have just filled me with self-doubt while I despised my perceived inadequacies as a writer. I know how much angst I can handle. I don’t need anybody deciding for me what I can or can’t handle. Or what I can or cannot write.
I’ve UN-intentionally avoided pursuing a diploma or a degree in creative writing because it was never the path I needed to get where I am right now. Where I’m at right now, is at the cusp of something amazing, creatively and personally. It’s something that been gestating for a long time. It started before I gave writing a go. It picked up a little steam when I wrote my first book. It started accelerating with the two characters (affectionately referred to as ‘my boys’) I’m working with now. I can’t remember the precise moment when they came roaring into my life, upending a previous story idea and planting themselves firmly in front of me so I couldn’t see anything else but them.
That upended story idea hasn’t been tossed aside. It is something I will return to explore. There is a reason for the switch-off. I think I know what it is. When the timing is right, I will revisit those characters and explore them again.
And as if my boys weren’t pesky enough with their poking me and wanting to play in the now-too-small sandbox of imagination (they now live in a hut with a fire pit by a beach), my field trip back in late October turned up the heat a little more. The boys were excited as hell by the research. I could feel their energy thrumming.
You know that carnival/exhibition ride operator who asks you if you want the ride to go faster? It seems I have been saying ‘HELL YA!’ a lot along with my two boys in the last couple of months or so. I must be some sort of closeted adrenaline junkie. I don’t get my kicks in the most obvious ways. The boys make it known that they’re in my head 24/7. When I’m not paying attention to them, they’re always there. Oddly enough, they’re not annoying. I enjoy their company regardless of the shenanigans they insist on exposing me, too. They’re quite shameless when it comes to grabbing my attention. I find it impossible to hate them. They love being around me. Te amo y más. That phrase pops into my head a lot. Some could argue that they love being around me too much.
While I might be a closet (maybe ‘latent’ is a better description) adrenaline junkie, I do think something is awakening in me that has long been dormant. Things have become clearer with regards to who I am, who I need to be. I’m sure how it ended up being dormant. Maybe, I just needed to get to a point in my life where it was the right time to come out of its slumber.I attribute a part of the awakening to the political disaster unfolding in America, one which threatens what stability there may be in the rest of the world. A tangible sense of activism has been awakened. And I’m figuring out how to express it. The expression isn’t looking to be deafeningly loud. It’s just looking to be duly noted along with all the other voices out there.
Being just a drop in the sea of humanity, I do have a sense of what I can do. I can’t explain it right now. It’s something I feel. And it’s taking me somewhere I need to go. It starts with the personal choices I make in how I live my life and who I want in my life. And it also starts with the stories I want to tell.
The stories I want to tell will represent who I am. I don’t think I’m a writer whose subject matter necessarily appeals to the masses. Being something to everyone is a straight jacket I don’t care to slip into.
Last Wednesday, I came across something that piqued my curiosity and now, it has me excited because it’s a story idea (in its most fundamental elements) I want to explore after my boys and I are done playing together. Although, I don’t think the three of us will ever leave each other. Will this new story idea become a novel? Probably, considering long-form writing seems to be my jam. I haven’t put a ton of thought to it yet. But it’s an idea I find fascinating. But I don’t want to create any characters for it until I do little more research on it.
And speaking of research, I’m hoping to do more field research in the near future with someone I consider a really good friend. The biggest obstacle will be finding time from our busy schedules to get this research done. Yes, I’m being vague again. Mainly because what I want to do, might raise a few eyebrows except for the ones who really know me. They’ll just think to themselves ‘why am I not surprised she’s going there?’ As for the others who don’t know me all that well… let’s just say they may have reason to be a bit wary around me. I say that with a semi-evil grin.
I have been fortunate enough in the last few months to find, encounter and be surrounded by individuals who inspire me just by being themselves, who accept me and my foibles. And in that time, I’ve also been lucky to discover things that have set my imagination on fire. Not the kind of fire that burns hot, blindingly bright and quickly dies. It’s the kind of fire that burns slow with a hotter-than-warm glow and doesn’t seem it will ever fade away.
Comforting yet energizing. Perfect and seductive, especially at night.