Guest post at http://www.csfg.org.au
Something writers are often exhorted to do is “write what you know”. This doesn’t necessarily mean that your stories should reflect the literal truth of your lived experience, although they can. My first published story, “The Alchemical Automaton Blues” was basically a recounting of a real experience I had with some neighbours and their neglected dog, dressed up in fantasy drag. When I have kids in my stories, they tend to be my kids.
Writing what you know can also mean capturing some essential truth or belief, without presenting it in any context that corresponds to your lived experience. My story “The Navigator and the Sky” is about an old man using the last of his strength to help his granddaughter escape a wrathful god. The underlying truth of the story, for me, is the commitment that I believe parents should make to their kids.
But what about writing what you don’t know? There’s a fantastic talk at TED.com by Turkish novelistElif Shafak, in which she talks about the experience of being pigeonholed by her ethnicity, the expectation that she will write Turkish stories, an expectation which she rejects. She stresses the value – the imperative, even – of writers stepping outside of what she refers to as their “cultural ghettoes” and exploring alternative ways of seeing the world. If you only ever write about yourself and your own little patch of the world, she argues, what do you learn?