Write What You Know? Ahem…
I don’t think so.
If I only wrote what I knew, I would never have:
- Created a 1st-person, 12-year-old boy protagonist
- Written a scene at a skate-board park that ends in a get-away race to safety
- Listened to many explanations of DNA-matching and written about it for 7-year-olds (Hi, Lee!)
- Taken a trip to Chicago to visit Hull-House
- Collected two shelves of research books that have me wanting to read (and write) down many, many new paths
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we do and can stretch our brains. My husband just finished reading Barbara Strauch’s The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain (now so overdue at the library, I have to take it back and THEN check it out again for myself to read (Hi, Amytha!)), and he’s been reading me bits and pieces–mostly focused on the fact that, as we get older, our brain does not shrivel up, atrophy, and basically die.
Despite what our teenage children may be telling us.
I think I knew this–I am in many ways much more open to new experiences, new knowledge. Okay, maybe not so much to new opinions, but I just think of that as continuing to grow my stubbornness synapses. (Hi, Mom!) But working on a historical novel has got me thinking about it more, really recognizing what we can do if we try. There is so much I’m putting into my book that I cannot know, not in the sense people talk about for writers. I can’t march through DC with the other suffragists; I can’t sit down and listen to Ida B. Wells anger at being asked to walk at the back of that march. I can’t walk through all the buildings in the Hull-House complex in 1913; I can’t share a room with Jane Addams and experience the warmth and power so many people have written about. And, honestly, I don’t really want to go to Chicago in the middle of a blizzard and stand around for an hour or three to see how it feels.
But I can learn. I can push myself not only to read the research, but to imagine the feelings, to close my eyes–and stretch my brain–while I take what I do know and extrapolate outward to a much bigger world of understanding.
Write what I know? Only that? No, thanks!