“Write what you know.”
That’s one of the most used writing phrases out there. It’s become a cliché. But what does that mean? Banalities frequently stick in my head. There’s a bigger lesson to be learned from simple phrases such as that one.
Writing that reflects first-hand experience feels more real than pure fiction. What’s the cause of that feeling? I ask myself that question a ton. Why do I feel, guilty for example? That’s what meditation is currently for me. Why am I feeling this way? The feeling that something is real or pops off the page. What determines the difference? I need to know to write well.
My experiences seem far removed from the everyday life of most people, hence the moniker, Radical Thinker. That comes from a few personality quirks. I don’t listen to other people unless some avenue of proof is available. Of course, that precludes generally accepted theories like science and any reasonable thought process. Still, external confirmation. That process invites deep thought and learning stuff through observation. Add that to the differences in my emotional landscape discussed here. Adding that to my medical condition gives me different experiences than the average functioning adult. I bridge that gap by observing and using my imagination for the rest. Like going to work. Like dating. Like being in a relationship. Like playing a cello. Like having bipolar depression. Like basically anything within the bounds of reality.
It can’t ever be the real thing. There’s something missing. The most impactful details are remembered. The rest is forgotten. Doing that in a fictional construct is really difficult. Those imaginings aren’t real. They fade away like a dream after you wake up.
I have two examples for you guys. First the song lyrics from Taylor Swift’s autobiographical song Out of the Woods.
That has the quality I was talking about. There’s just enough detail to seem real. It supposedly is. Two details. The camera and where they were. Giving just enough detail is nearly impossible without first-hand experience. The compilation of what should be remembered and what shouldn’t is one way to get the feeling of reality.
That’s basically what happens to everyone after college. Sometimes you drift away from your college friends. And sometimes you’re bound for life.Sometimes you connect with people that were there in the background. Still, there’s connection. Still, there’s shared experience.
I read something researching how to write well. It said, “use three senses when writing every scene.” “Naked, Drunk, and Writing: Shed Your Inhibitions and Craft a Compelling Memoir or Personal Essay” by Adair Lara, referencing Flannery O’Connor in “The Nature and Aim of Fiction” That also works. You add three sensory feelings in every scene you write. One of the pieces I saw on CritiqueCircle was published into a book. Here’s the first paragraph of The Boyfriend by Alex Pilails.
First, there was the music, strobe lights, sweaty people, and the way they danced. That’s more than three senses, but this is an overwhelming place, a nightclub. So three senses make you feel you’re there. More depending on how intense the situation is. Fewer than three if it’s boring like a long sink to the seafloor. Sight first. Sound next if it matters, or smell. Something along those lines.
That’s a change for me, this checklist of senses.
Something else showed up when I wrote a couple of short stories. I actually have relatable personal experiences. They’re all personal emotional experiences. That’s where my extreme emotions come into play. Exploring their root causes is an added tool given to me by mediation.
That started as figuring out how to write creative non-fiction. Read this one, that one, and that other one for more. I used those new skills to write this post for Medium and this other one for BayArt. Writing non-fiction helped this change come about. I’m all about cross-application of knowledge and lessons learned.
That carried over to fiction writing where it could. I’ll write up a short paragraph on the feeling of guilt I felt this morning. Here it is:
Guilt is that nagging feeling, the perpetual elephant stalking you from room to room, everywhere you go. It starts small, like the way big things always start. It seems insignificant at first. Then it grows and grows until it’s an elephant on your chest. It doesn’t have to be an elephant. Most guilt isn’t that severe. It’s a rock in your shoe that doesn’t go away until it’s dealt with. It’s an annoyance that hurts the more it’s in there. There are ways to scrub away the annoyance, the weight hanging around you. All it takes is an apology, but it’s not as easy as saying sorry. You get caught in the doldrums of your anxiety. Is an apology required in this situation? It’s not just you against your guilt. There’s another person involved, the one you wronged.
Are they hurt? Did the mistake bother you more than it should? Does the aggrieved see the wrong as you would, as you do? If not, there’s the pickle. Should you apologize and risk highlighting your mistake, your error. Well if you did, the elephant disappears, the rock vanishes. Then you get to pick up the cards dropped where they may fall. You have to move on and forget the turn in your fortune. What was once peaceful friendship became your torture for a while, but you mustn’t forget it. Those that forget are soon to repeat mistakes anew. Those that conjure the elephant, those that create the stone are always there. Never repeat the mistake, never call guilt forth. Mistakes are human, and we are human after all. But humans can change, and so can we.
There. My example of writing what I know. Guilt as the case is.