Sunday, July 15, 2007

Write What You Know? Not Always.

Tapping Creativity BookI learned several very valuable lessons in grad school. Aside from learning how to survive on essentially NO money, I also learned how to focus my writing by finding my motivating force. One old adage is to write what you know. For many writers, young writers especially, knowing enough about anything to compile it into a book or book length collection is no easy task.

For my master's thesis, I was hoping to do a compilation of short stories. The stories I'd been writing were a mish mash of ideas and themes. When put together, they seemed even more out of sync. No university would ever let me slap them together like that. Fortunately, my thesis adviser, Kate Myers Hanson was not only a great teacher, but an amazing writer whose collection of short stories, Narrow Beams, is an ideal example of what a short story collection should be.

Her advice was this: Write about what interests you. In some instances, this is the same as writing about what you know; in some instances, it isn't. For a young writer, the latter is usually the case. She had me make a list of my favorite books. The list included: The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, and The Stories of John Cheever. The idea was that all of these books were favorites of mine because, through them, ran a common theme that was a deep interest of mine. And there was. The theme was how certain challenges break families down. After I learned this, I was able to choose the stories of mine that were consistent with this theme, and craft new ones more easily.

Fiction, though, isn't the only area of writing where this applies. My book, Tapping Creativity, was originally designed to be a textbook on writing, complete with grammar lessons and primers on APA and MLA styles. The more I hammered away at it, however, the more I realized what interested me most were the sections related to idea creation and ... well ... tapping creativity. And that is something that applies to all creative arts.

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