Friday, May 1, 2015

Feed Your Imagination

I love ebooks. Ebooks are a fantastic development for readers. But the ebook vs print book is a false dichotomy and despite the arguments you see about the issue, I think most readers agree. People who like to read books just like to read books, printed or digital.

For me, I find I impulse buy more print books than ebooks. Seeing something new in a book store, taking it off the shelf and buying it on a whim is a far more satisfying experience than buying digital. Yes, consumerism has trained me well.

But this is how I happened to come across a book titled How To Disappear. It's a fascinating book on hiding in plain sight and making it hard for people to find you. It's a guide for people wanting to escape abusive relationship, people wanting to start their life again, and all manner of (legal) reasons for wanting to vanish into (and not out of) the system. I've never thought much about the topic or why people would want to disappear, but it certainly is a fascinating book. What really attracted me to it was the case files included in the book - the real life examples of people the author had helped to disappear.

I finished the book over the next couple of days and it now sits on my shelf alongside other books on topics as broad as religion, philosophy, psychology, sociology, history, art, politics, crime and assorted other books on random topics that have caught my interest.

Reading, as you no doubt know, is important for the writer. Reading is key to learning how to write. Study and consume literature as much as  you can and learn from it. You can't write good fiction unless you read good fiction. Our favourite authors are our teachers.

But are you also reading non-fiction?

This all comes back to that old maxim "Write what you know."

What do you know? Do you know history? What about religion and philosophy? Psychology, sociology and politics? Martial arts? Superstition? Mechanics? Science? What do you know?

You see "write what you know" is layers upon layers of wisdom that you should be heeding. But I also look at it as a challenge. "Write what you know" demands that you know things. It's not just about knowing what it is like to be a middle class suburban white boy who likes cats and the rain but prefers not to mix them. It's not just about knowing what it's like to be a human that loves and hates and cries in sadness and in joy. It's not just about knowing what life in a city is like, or life in a small town, or growing up in the '90s or staring at a long list of job adds and feeling the struggle between your pride and your desperation.

All of that is part of your human experience and it is what you know.

But what you know is also about how to hold a sword, how to ride a motorcycle, how to quote classic literature and form a logical argument and teach using the Socratic Method.What you know is how to cook a damned good hamburger using whatever ingredients you have on hand and knowing the serene pleasure of a long walk or the short lived thrill of a downhill sprint. What you know is the biographies of serial killers and the detectives who stopped them.

All of that is what you know, too.

And the more you know, the more you can write.

The things we learn from non-fiction is food for our imagination. We can find inspiration and ideas in the true stories of our world. How much truer is the climactic sword fight you've planned in the third act going to be for your reader if you have also stood, sword in hand, staring down a bigger, stronger opponent? How accurately can your murderer-come-nihilistic-philosopher if you have never read Dostoyevsky's 'Notes From Underground'?

I've said this before and it bears repeating: "Write What You Know" is not a limitation but a challenge. Learn. Know more and write more. Fill in those gaps in your experience with other people's experience. Non-fiction will feed your creativity and take your imagination to new places.

So read widely and read often and make space in your schedule for non-fiction.

No comments:

Post a Comment