|This is what I know|
I know blogging is a bit of a scattergun approach and you may/may not have noticed that I'm keeping my posts down to about one a week. This allows me to write a more considered post and to leave it up long enough for it to be found by you. Welcome! Fewer posts mean I have more time to write my stories, more time to social network and more time to visit you when you leave a comment. Did I forget more time for real life? That's probably the MOST important thing. We bloggers can live in a surreal world, missing out on the beauties of the outdoors (and the outdoors are at their best at this time of year in Australia - a few days from Winter) and 'real' live people which is sort of relevant to my topic today...
A recent novel workshop reminded me of the adage, 'Write What You Know.' I've always disagreed with this advice and have subscribed to the opposite - 'Write About What You Don't Know But Want To Find Out'. A bit like those diagrams we teachers use to assist school students get started with their research for a history project.
At first I was resistant to the idea but decided to give it some thought. Maybe my idea was that the advice meant you must write autobiographally. Further reading showed me that as writers we may not have first-hand knowledge of something but we know a lot intuitively. Hemingway never had a son returning from war, but he was able to write convincingly in his 'Soldier's Home'. Hemingway was no stranger to disillusionment and apathy so he was able to use these emotions and his own first-hand experience as a war correspondent. Oh the pathos:
By the time Krebs returned to his home town in Oklahoma the greeting of heroes was over. He came back much too late. The men from the town who had been drafted had all been welcomed elaborately on their return. There had been a great deal of hysteria. Now the reaction had set in. People seemed to think it was rather ridiculous for Krebs to be getting back so late, years after the war was over.
Most of us don't see the value in our own lives, but Flannery O'Conner said: '...anyone who has survived childhood has enough to write about for a dozen years.' When I did my BLOGGERS WERE CHILDREN TOO! series for the A-Z Challenge, some of the comments were saying they'd like to hear more of my childhood in the wild, free and horsey Queensland bush.
Back to Hemingway who I think is far more interesting than I am. He is one of the mythical figures of literature who believed passionately in the value of violent and intense personal experience. He chose a life revolving around war, big game hunting, deep sea fishing, bullfighting, drinking and so on...It was intense and desperate. So despairing was he that he shot himself. However Hemingway also wrote, drawing directly on his own experience. His 'Nick Adams' stories, for example.
James Joyce lived as an expatriate, yet his Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (click to read the ebook) covers his outwardly uneventful youth until he leaves university. What was so endearing about Joyce's Portrait? He experimented with a variety of styles which capture the exact feeling of each period of his youth. His Dubliners is a series of sketches of the city he both loved and hated.
So to wrap up, I'll remind you of the literary giant, E.M. Forster, and his attempt to write about what he didn't know - the lower class - in Howard's End. He tries to show the divide between social classes and how to bridge this chasm. So he included a character from the Working Classes! He had one tentative stab at it in the form of Leonard Bast, insurance clerk. Anyone familiar with this character will recognise that despite his good intentions Forster failed dismally as he concentrated on having Bast 'improve himself' by reading and attending classical concerts. Forster didn't 'know' this type of character and ended up just making poor Leonard a figure of fun.
There is a goldmine of fiction that uses the writer's early life. Here are just a few that come to mind:
The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
Empire of the Sun - J G Ballard
Indian Camp, The Killers and A Day's Wait - all by Ernest Hemingway, all spare, shocking about a small boy learning the hard way about the ugly facts of life in Thirties America.
A COUPLE OF EXERCISES IN WRITING ABOUT YOUR LIFE
Describe some of the things (you could confine yourself to your own house) which you regard with particular affection, or loathing. Try to avoid telling the reader directly how you feel about them, letting your emotions come through instead in the way you describe the objects.
Minutely describe the sounds you hear going to sleep late at night, or in a fever. Try to capture the sense of drifting into sleep as you describe what you hear.
With thanks to Julian Birkett, Word Power for some of the inspiration for my post and for these exercises.
- So what do you think? Do you write about what you know, or what you want to find out?
- Will you try the writing exercises? I often find doing this type of work leaves me with the essence of a short fiction piece.