The First Rule of Write-Club
December 17, 2010
December 17, 2010
by Julie Innis
If any of you happen to know who came up with the “Write What You Know” rule, send that jackass to me because I’d like to punch him in the face — one punch for every time some writer has justified his/her craptacular story with the classic defense, “But This Really Happened To Me!”
Let me be clear: I have been, and still am, ‘that’ writer and have certainly foisted more than my fair share of craptacular stories onto the world. If craptacular stories had a carbon footprint, mine would be the size of Brazil.
Have you seen Brazil? It’s fucking huge.
But, my dear friend-in-writerly-struggle, today I’d like to suggest a different approach, a way to throw off those shackles of self, to be free from ego and strife. Out with the old, in with the new.
There is another way.
Some back-story: for a long time before I decided to become a Person Who Writes, I was a Teacher. When you are a teacher, you participate in many team-building activities, also known as “Professional Development.” In team-building, you learn that 1+1 equals far more than 2, that no matter how simple the task, it will always takes a village to get it done right, and, most importantly, that there is no “I” in “Team.”
To which the only appropriate response is “No Shit, Sherlock” or, in my case, something more … colorful. But please do keep in mind, you are surrounded by Teachers, Shapers of Young Minds. This is a School, not some sleazy barroom, some watering hole of last resort where you can lob your f-bombs then sit back and watch through the lens of your shot glass the splatter pattern your bad attitude creates. This is A Warm and Loving Place of Learning, goddamnit, so please, Act Accordingly.
Needless to say, I was deeply conflicted during my years as a Teacher.
In those dark years of “There’s No ‘I’ in Team,” I somehow managed to stumble into another club, the club of “Write What You Know.” In Write-Club, unlike the I-Free Zone of Teaching, the I reigns supreme. The I abounds, the I abides. I, I, fucking I. Except, of course, when the I cloaks Itself in the safety of the third-person, or worse, second.
In those years, I rolled in, wallowed in, reveled in my I. Everything I wrote was thinly-veiled autobiography. I mined the shit out of my I. Oh if only I known the goldmine that is Creative Non-Fiction! But this was Fiction, goddamnit, so I Acted Accordingly.
When I look back at those stories, I don’t regret having written them, or, to be more accurate, having lived them. I suspect we all have stories we need to get out of our systems, telling and retelling until they no longer demand to be told. As if that need can ever be satisfied. Even now, I suspect I will always return to the comfort of writing who I am and what I know.
But who among us hasn’t, on occasion, looked in the mirror and said ‘It’s not me, it’s you,” googled ‘lobotomy,’ priced the cost of a vacation from one’s self?
Or is that just me?
I mean, sure, there’s an ‘I’ in Individual and Identity.
And in Insomnia, Indigestion, and Insufferable.
But there’s also an ‘I’ in Invention and Imagination.
Really, there are probably hundreds of ‘I’ words that I could include here, but frankly I’m too lazy to look them all up and I think you’ve gotten the point by now, right?
Please don’t make me beat you over the head with it.
And so, yes, while there may be an ‘I’ in “Write What You Know,” let’s not forget that there’s also an ‘I’ in “Make Shit Up.”
Making shit up is fun. But there will be consequences. People will assume that the shit you make up really happened to you.
For example: A man very sweetly asked me, after reading a story of mine in which a brain tumor figures prominently, if I too had a brain tumor.
It is not a tumor, I reassured him.
Or, to avoid jinxing myself, I should say that I really really hope that I do not have a brain tumor.
Though frankly it would explain a lot.
And while we’re on this subject, I should clarify that I have not experienced first-hand many of the things I have written about.
I have never befriended a goat.
I have never been a serial killer or a victim of a serial killer.
I have never philated a fly.
I have never squeezed the breasts of a Russian woman.
I have never owned a monkey.
I have never been swarmed by killer bees.
I have, however,
Fallen in love
Fallen out of love
Drank too much
Said stupid things
Did stupider things
Regretted a great deal
Pretended to regret nothing
Honestly, what I haven’t done is far more interesting than what I have done. Which is perhaps the best case for “Make Shit Up” in favor of “Write What You Know.”
And yes, I know all you Pocket-Freuds out there are saying “but the seeds of your personal experiences give life to the stories you tell – whether real or absurd.”
To which I say, with all due respect, “No Shit, Sherlock.”
And yes, there’s an ‘I’ in that too.
Bio: When not working as a houseplant, Julie Innis can be found sending back soup in various delis throughout the Metro region. If you ‘google’ her, some stories might pop up. These stories may or may not be true.
Ok. I have to gloat.
I have to gloat that I’m the son-of-a-bitch lucky enough to have Julie Innis grace that which is my blog.
I first stumbled across Julie and her writings on Fictionaut (a social writing community that we and many wonderful others are a part of). It was love at first read. Her stories always consist of something different I’ve never read about before. A certain coolness served up straight with a pretty bittersweet twist on the side.
I want to be Julie Innis when I grow up.