You know how they’re always telling you, “Write about what you know?” It’s great advice… but dangerous.
I always used it as an excuse not to write, since truthfully, I don’t know anything in any great depth. However, now that I’m not working, and have become committed to writing, I find that my pool of knowledge, while shallow, is really quite widespread. I am stupid about a great many things.
This makes it very easy to start writing… to get the ball rolling… but it does inevitably lead to the point where you’re going to have to do one of two things: learn something a little more thoroughly, or make something up.
The second option requires imagination. Personally, if I had an imagination, I wouldn’t have to write about what I know.
Which leaves the first option open… and frankly, it sounds more virtuous anyway. When you learn something in order to write about it, you become a teacher. That’s a huge responsibility… and it turns writing into a game of “pepper.” Have you ever rocked back and forth as your friends twirled a rope, not knowing when to leap forward and start jumping? That’s what writing is like, if you’re trying to assume the role of a teacher. Do I know enough yet to put pen to paper? Will my conclusions be believable to someone who knows more about this subject than I do?
The only way to keep yourself from being crippled at this point is to remember that you only have to be a smidgeon more informed than your students… and sometimes, even THAT is not needed.
Many years ago, when I was a trainer, I was assisting one of my teachers and mentors as she was conducting a computer class. Fifteen minutes into the session, a glitch affected the program, and everybody’s screens went blank. I panicked, but my friend walked away from her keyboard, stepped into the center of the room, and addressed the class. “For this exercise,” she said, “I want you all to split up into triads. Trace your steps and analyze what you did. Identify three different actions that you feel may have caused your computer to seize up, and craft at least one possible solution to the most likely cause. You have twenty minutes.”
With my eyes bugging out like a pug’s, I went over to her and whispered, “Did you plan this as a class exercise?” “Hell, no!” she answered. “But in the next twenty minutes, one of them might be able to figure out what the fuck happened, and if none of them does, by the time we finish discussing their theories, class will be over.”
Today, as I was working on “my book,” I reached a point where I was describing something that had really happened to me once… something I knew… but something I could not technically explain. I wondered… should I go back and research the situation, or should I be content with relating the memory as it now exists, hoping the reader will come up with filler for any blanks I’ve left on paper?
I hope you’ll read the book someday… and I hope you’ll let me know why today’s episode played out as it did.