Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Write What You Know, Part 1

A writer friend of mine and I were sharing a bottle of wine and a beautiful view of the Mississippi River high atop the Grafton Bluffs discussing, as writers always do, the craft of writing. I remember telling her how envious I was of writers like Tony Hillerman and Neil Gaiman who could weave mythology and folklore into their stories, wishing I could do that myself. I had tried a few times and just fell flat. That's when she reminded me that writers need to write what they know. I had heard that before, but in my ambition to be like the writers above, had abandoned that idea.

What do I know? I know what it's like to be a middle aged man who grew up during the Cold War and came to age during the Information Age. I know what it's like to fall in love with the wrong person and hang on too long, and to fall in love with the right person, only to drive her away with my inner demons and insecurities. But do writers have success writing about such mundane, every day events? I'm sure they do.

When I started seriously writing three years ago I fell in love with the work of Ethan Canin, who himself was inspired by John Cheever. I read their works voraciously. I also read a lot of E. L. Doctorow, whose RAGTIME remains one of my favorite novels - every day people dealing with every day events, but events people just don't discuss much. I like stories about the every day person -- they make me feel connected and not alone in my own struggles.

I think I tried to fly too close to the sun like Prometheus and thanks to some good wine and great discussion, I think I've once again found my roots, and am happy where I am.

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