As writers we have heard the adage “Write what you know” so many times that it has almost started to lose its meaning. It is sage advice, but it is often difficult to apply. This is particularly true for certain genres. (If you are writing about another world, or another time period for example) One could argue that a story about a Steampunk time warp wouldn’t exactly fit in the category of “things you know”. However, wouldn’t our world be a more boring place without the imagination of people like J.R. Tolkien, or C.S. Lewis, or J.M. Barrie or all those books we read as kid, with maps in the front, that made you fall in love with books in the first place?
That was not a rhetorical question. The correct answer is “Yes”. Yes, our world, and our book shelves, would be less interesting. We may not have developed minds with “an innermost box” that Mr. Darling still doesn’t know about.
So I am going to warp the old advice a little bit and instead suggest that we Write What’s In Our Blood. Write those things that make your pulse beat faster. Write those things that you can’t type without crying or laughing. Write those things that turn your bones to glass. Write those things that make you skip meals, forget that morning comes after night and test your partner’s patience. Don’t just write what you know. Don’t just write what you love. Write from your very core.
We were watching a fantastic documentary on Bill Hicks the other night and something he said stuck with me. He was talking about Rock and Roll and the state of music in general. And at one point he started yelling… “I want to hear music that comes from your soul! YOUR SOUL!!!” He was dying of cancer. He went out to the desert with a bunch of friends to live impossibly well.
He was 32.
So if you believe you have a soul, write from that. Hell, I don’t even care if you do it well. I don’t care if your spelling is checked, or your grammar is correct. I have a good friend who writes abysmal poetry with a crazy sense of urgency. And I have to say, I would rather see that, then a paltry lump with no life in it at all. By all means try to hone your craft, certainly. But what I am trying to say is that it is by no means the most important thing. You could churn out perfectly-formatted, formulaic book club successes and it would be next to meaningless for me.
I want to see all the agony and the ecstasy of being alive. I want your blood come out of your pores and pour onto that page. I want flying stars and nightmares and stigmata. And then I want you to imagine that you are having a cigarette after. (I don’t suggest that you have a real one…those things will kill you.) But you get my drift.
I don’t think I’ve really been doing it up to now. But I am in the process of seeing what I can do about that.