No, not in a creepy demonic possession/horror movie kind of way.
I recently discovered an article by Colum McCann, stuffed full of tips for new writers. Being that it is a long article, and every paragraph contains worth pondering for hours, and I’m super busy these days, I haven’t even made it to the end yet. Still, there’s something that I need to share. I was shackled for years by the old aphorism, “write what you know.” Well, if we all did that, we’d be writing nothing but autobiographies, wouldn’t we? And I have almost as little interest in writing my autobiography as anyone else would have in reading it. I decided to throw out that rule. Until, however, McCann gave me a new take on it:
“Don’t write what you know, write towards what you want to know.
A writer is an explorer. She knows she wants to get somewhere, but she doesn’t know if the somewhere even exists yet. It is still to be created. Don’t sit around looking inward. That’s boring. In the end your navel contains only lint. You have to propel yourself outward, young writer.
The only true way to expand your world is to inhabit an otherness beyond ourselves… Remember, the world is so much more than one story. We find in others the ongoing of ourselves.
In the end your first-grade teacher was correct: we can, indeed, only write what we know. It is logically and philosophically impossible to do otherwise. But if we write towards what we don’t supposedly know, we will find out what we knew but weren’t yet entirely aware of. We will have made a shotgun leap in our consciousness. We will not be stuck in the permanent backspin of me, me, me.”
Inhabit an otherness. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing. The fact is, we all know much more than we realize. It comes down to the idea of human universals. Even if there is a situation we have never experienced, a courage or cowardice we have never felt, we have the imaginative capability to project ourselves into those places.
And why not? Carpe Experientia, y’all.