Write what you know?
‘Write what you know’ - the ‘great’ advice given to writers to guide them to a ‘great’ story. Because great advice leads to a great story. That’s all you need, sort of…
Here’s the thing; if I wrote about what I know, I’d never write a damn word. I remember a period in my life when I thought I was so frigging smart. The war started when I was 12, there were things I handled really well, even looking back, I must admit I’m quite impressed, especially when I look at 12-year-olds and how insanely stupid they can be. So perhaps I had a reason to feel very smart. But, between then and now something happened. I came to realize how little I know. There is so much knowledge out there, my brain cannot take even a small fraction of it. And then there are things I thought I knew, yet I really didn’t. So what I want to write about is ‘lack of knowledge and ‘being uncertain in my own advice’.
I can honestly say, hand on my heart, I have always given the best advice I could. If anyone, ever honoured me in a way to seek my advice, I did my utmost to place myself in their situation and honestly say what I would do. But lately, I have followed my advice with “Please understand that this is just my opinion. If I got it right, you do not need to thank me. It’s all just my human-to-human duty. But if I got it wrong, please don’t blame me. It is your decision, and I will feel the same whether you accept my advice or reject it.”
My grandmother made the best beans. Seriously, her beans were better than any food I ever tasted. Of course, I asked her to teach me to make them. And she happily agreed “Yes, I will make them on Thursday, so come by and watch.” I can still hear her exclaim with a big smile on her face and a proud glow in her eyes. I came. She cooked. I jotted down every detail. I went home to make my own, while it was still fresh in my mind and while I was still so hyped. They were nothing like her beans. To this day I have failed to reproduce the dish. I have no idea why.
If I can’t reproduce a frigging dish, how can someone, anyone claim there’s a ‘recipe’ for success? Yes, there are things you can do to make your success more likely, but there are no guarantees. And if there are no guarantees, then we have no logical explanation to blame a person for their lack of success. Besides, what is ‘success’? I’ve been in situations where survival is a huge success. In fact, I know people (and we’ve all heard about people) whose survival is a miracle; not just success, but a mind-blowing, shocking, out of this world miracle. In other words, success is measured and defined by the circumstances you face (which only you know) and by the objectives we’ve set ourselves. We live in a world where being a good human is not a priority. We will idolize people for wealth, fame and luck. Who cares what kind of person they are? In fact, who cares what they did to ‘get there’? We all should care, or we should not wonder why our societies are falling to pieces. If we take ‘money’ and only money as a measure of success, we must see our society as great because humans have never had so much money. Sure, division of money is a bit iffy and a different topic, but as a whole, we are a great society. If money is a measure of success. So, is it? Or is there a clash between what we know and what we don’t ‘know’?
I like to think about what I think I know, check my ideas, write about what I’ve checked, and reserve the right to change my mind. I write to find out what I don’t know (today’s words of wisdom at LWS writers hour – thanks KK for sharing and Candice for suggesting these words from James Baldwin). I like to be brave, bold, but I don’t want to be an ass who thinks they’re smart just because they’re awake. I do not think I’m smarter than anyone else, though I do wish I was lucky like some people. There’s something to learn from every person, so I try to learn it. I try to learn as much as I can.
And if I had any advice to give to writers it would be: Stop trying to be a leader. Many people fail at being a contributor to positive changes. If you can accomplish a positive contribution, consider yourself a success.
PS – I will do a little something-something about money. I don’t want people to think that it’s not important. Oh, it is important.
PPS – I’ll also have to write about successful people looking back at their hardships and writing about them. Of course, they do not sound genuine; those hardships look very different after success.