Unique You

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Nick Wheel­er via Comp­fight­Are

Are you the type of writer who fol­lows the old adage “Write what you know”?  If you are, I hope you’re being very lit­er­al about it.

On the sur­face, writ­ing what you know may seem like a pret­ty bor­ing prospect.  When I look at my own life: wake up, show­er, pray, com­mute to work, inter­view patients, answer calls, send emails, com­mute home, eat, exer­cise, sleep, repeat… I see a list of monot­o­ny so bor­ing I feel a yawn com­ing on.  I’ve come to the con­clu­sion that writ­ing what you know only counts about those ele­ments of your life that are unique.

Who are you?  Dig deep and think for a few sec­onds before you answer that ques­tion.

When I wrote An Unpro­duc­tive Woman sev­er­al years ago, some­one sug­gest­ed to me that because AUW was set in Africa and the char­ac­ters are Mus­lim that only Africans and Mus­lims would be inter­est­ed in read­ing it.  I nev­er believed that.  AUW con­fronts issues of fam­i­ly, life, death, hope, love, and faith, all of which are among the com­mon threads that bind all human beings.

An Unpro­duc­tive Woman is a work of lit­er­ary fic­tion, and now almost 15 years lat­er, my tastes and my pre­ferred genre have changed con­sid­er­ably.  Cur­rent­ly I have a great affin­i­ty for sci­ence fic­tion and dystopi­an lit­er­a­ture.  (The rea­sons why are a dif­fer­ent post alto­geth­er.)  My pre­vi­ous and cur­rent gen­res are def­i­nite­ly worlds apart, but one thing has not changed.  I still write about char­ac­ters that reflect, at least in part, my unique expe­ri­ence.  And while to many, my expe­ri­ence and way of life may seem for­eign, I ful­ly believe that my read­ers will appre­ci­ate the rich­ness they add to my sto­ries.

A few months ago I sub­mit­ted my short sto­ry enti­tled Con­ces­sions for cri­tique.  I received great advice and crit­i­cism, all of which has helped me shape the sto­ry into one that I am proud of.  One of the com­ments that I received affirms my point.

One thing I liked is the fact it’s from a non-west­ern/Judeo-Chris­t­ian per­spec­tive.  I’m excit­ed to see oth­er cul­tures rep­re­sent­ed as main pro­tag­o­nists.  And, on that note, I like how you pre­sent­ed that cul­tur­al per­spec­tive here.”

If you were to ran­dom­ly gath­er togeth­er 100 peo­ple, you’d find that by virtue of the fact that we are all human beings, we all share some com­mon traits.  For­tu­nate­ly, because a world of exact clones would be hor­ri­fy­ing­ly bland, you’d also find that despite these com­mon attrib­ut­es, it is our par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tions that make each one of us unique.  Those unique traits are the ones you should infuse your writ­ing with.

Do I sense your doubt?  I promise, you real­ly do have unique traits and abil­i­ties.

Are you a 40 some­thing year old father of three whose grown thick around the mid­dle but who can still Wind­mill with the best of the b-boys?

Do you remem­ber the lyrics to every song you’ve ever heard whether you want to or not?

Are you a prac­ti­tion­er of Con­fu­cian­ism, Islam, Man­daeism, or Samar­i­tanism?

Can you speak a sec­ond lan­guage?  Ojib­wa, Hin­di, Swahili?

Have you over­come and sur­vived a seri­ous ill­ness or injury?

Use your unique qual­i­ties to build unique char­ac­ters and sit­u­a­tions.  It’s still writ­ing what you know, but based on the most extreme yet sin­gu­lar inter­pre­ta­tion.

Now, let’s try again.  Who are you?

*****

(Orig­i­nal­ly guest-post­ed 06/2012 at http://yesterdaydaugher.blogspot.com/2012/06/write-what-you-know-guest-post-by.html)

  • sto­ries­by­williams

    When I wrote An Unpro­duc­tive Woman sev­eral years ago, some­one sug­gested to me that because AUW
    was set in Africa and the char­ac­ters are Mus­lim that only Africans
    and Mus­lims would be inter­ested in read­ing it.  I nev­er believed
    that.  AUW con­fronts issues of fam­ily, life,
    death, hope, love, and faith, all of which are among the com­mon
    threads that bind all human beings.”
    -Damn skip­py! I can’t believe any­one would think this, espe­cial­ly in today’s age when peo­ple are so drawn to ideas and per­spec­tives that are NOT their own. I for one am also glad to have the ben­e­fit of your per­spec­tive, main­ly because I read what oth­ers have to say about cul­tures that are not their own, and even when they are not mak­ing assump­tions or going by stereo­types, what they have to say seems hor­ri­bly one-dimen­sion­al and cliched. It’s like any­one who is not a West­ern­er is total­ly rigid and the total prod­uct of his or her respec­tive cul­tur­al norms, as if they would find no room for humor, inter­pre­ta­tion, defi­ance, depar­ture from tra­di­tion, or the mil­lion and one oth­er things that make us all so inter­est­ing.

    Cur­rently I have a great affin­ity for sci­ence fic­tion and dystopi­an
    lit­er­a­ture.”
    — My only reply to that is Yaaaaaaay! Of course, I can under­stand that too. One of the rea­sons I began doing Sci-fi was because it was so much eas­i­er to relate per­son­al expe­ri­ence here and write some­thing inter­est­ing than with any oth­er genre. Its a flex­i­ble engine, more so than a genre, for deliv­er­ing time­less ideas and cri­tiques, don’t you think? A friend said some­thing to that effect to me once, and I was impressed because it sound­ed a lot like what I had been think­ing at the time.

    If you were to ran­domly gath­er togeth­er 100 peo­ple, you’d find that by
    virtue of the fact that we are all human beings, we all share some
    com­mon traits.  For­tu­nately, because a world of exact clones would be
    hor­ri­fy­ingly bland, you’d also find that despite these com­mon
    attrib­utes, it is our par­tic­u­lar com­bi­na­tions that make each one
    of us unique.  Those unique traits are the ones you should infuse your
    writ­ing with.”
    -Dou­ble damn skip­py! That’s what I want to learn to do. I would like to think that before the day is out, I could try to write some­one entire­ly dif­fer­ent from myself and make them sound con­vinc­ing. Once again, glad to have you in my cor­ner 😉