Writers are often double agents. We feel like outsiders—confused denizens of a world that doesn’t understand us—and yet the best writers are so deeply inside their subject matter they can lead us into it with nothing but language.
Jane Austen was an outsider, an old maid who lived with her family all her life. Yet, she understood the culture of the English gentry well enough to portray it with precision. Insider and outsider at once.
Often, the great writers (like the great prophets) live on the fringe but speak to the heart.
“Write What You Know”
Yesterday, we talked about how to write when you feel like an outsider. However, today is Saturday, and on Saturdays at the Write Practice, we do the opposite of something we’ve done during the week.
Hemingway’s mantra, “Write what you know,” led him to the major wars of his generation, led him to Africa to hunt big game, to Cuba and Florida to fish, and to the bullfights in Spain. Maybe he did it out of his training as a journalist, or maybe he did it to prove he could, but whatever he wrote about, he always became the ultimate insider before he wrote.
What do you know?
You don’t have to go to Africa to write about what you know. You’re already an insider in dozens of areas.
You might know parenting.
Or television watching.
You know a lot about your job.
You know your hobbies.
You are already an insider. The trick is explaining what you know to someone who doesn’t know, someone who isn’t an insider. You have to think like your reader, like an outsider, but talk like an insider. It’s a tricky business, but the best way to do it is to tell a story.
Today, write what you know.
But don’t just give us the facts, that’s boring. Tell us a story.
You’ve got fifteen minutes. Post your practice in the comments when you’re finished.
Have a great Saturday!