Thanks to Tabby for allowing me to join all of you – I’m looking forward to a lot of Nocturnal Nights together.
“Write What You Know”. How many of us have banged our heads against our keyboards after reading that yet another writing sage has put forward this piece of well-intended yet often misinterpreted piece of advice? But did you know that “write what you know” has a corollary, a commandment I like to refer to as “Write One”? That’s short for “write one genre and stick with it for as long as you shall write”. This little gem was popularized several years ago by an editor-turned-writer who declared that, in her opinion, there were very few writers able to truly master even one form of writing. Therefore, she reasoned, it must be next to impossible for writers to work in multiple capacities. Really?
Although my advice may not be worth more than a box of cyber-chocolates, I’d like to be the first to encourage everyone to at least consider writing in as many forms as possible. Writing non-fiction can spark images that lead to poems that lead to a novel…. At least that’s been my experience.
I began writing for publication in 2002, when my essays and short fiction appeared in small magazines. At that time, I subscribed to the “write one” school of thought. I felt somewhat fraudulent that I was writing both fiction and non-fiction, and figured that the day would come when I would have to choose between the two if I was ever going to get anywhere in my writing career. I had a lot of limiting ideas. I was especially daunted by the idea of writing poetry. It seemed so esoteric, so contemplative, so far a-field from my essays. And the thought of writing a full-length work of fiction? Please!
I think you know where I’m going with this: the same place I want you to go, into uncharted waters, without an oar, lifejacket, or compass. Go ahead: jump right into the writing pool that’s most foreign to you. For you already have the tool that’s going to pull you to shore. It’s the one thing that is always with you whenever you write. It doesn’t matter whether you’re typing your screenplay on an old Smith Corona or carefully composing couplets with quill and ink. No matter where you are, or what you’re writing, you always have your voice. Your written voice is as unique as your speaking voice and your fingerprints. You know how you can raise your voice when you’re angry, and whisper when you wish? Well, your writing voice works in the same way – it’s a multi-octave powerhouse you can use to communicate in whatever genre or style you choose. You wouldn’t dream of speaking in a monotone all day just because you mumble in the morning. So why would you stifle your writing voice by restricting it to one form of expression?
That editor did have the write idea – all writers do “Write One”. She was just mistaken about the details. Our voices are what make us unique. Our forms of writing are merely the frames that hold and give shape to our expression. So come on. Commit. Make this the month that you write in a genre or form that is foreign to you. Forget about writing only what you know, the literary equivalent of painting yourself into a corner. It’s summertime - write what you want. What have you got to lose?