Writing Tips: Getting in Your Blind Spots
Back when I was a teenage writer I had delusions of literature. As time went by I realised that you can write “pulp” stories that actually had meaning without having to couch everything in flowery prose but for a long time I had my heart set on the life of an artiste. But unfortunately I was a teenager, one that had lived a fairly sheltered life. A large part of writing fiction, outside of the technical work of actually writing is about translating your experiences and knowledge about the world into a coherent story. When you are told “write what you know,” this is what is being referred to. Which someone should probably inform the thousands of middle aged English professors writing about having affairs with their students.
All of which brings us to my very first literary novel. I had written other stories before, but they didn't count because they weren't literary, they weren't art. Do you ever wish that you could reach back through time and slap the pretentiousness out of yourself? The story was a hodgepodge mash of ideas that I had bubbling around in my brain at the time, elements that had little to no relation to each other but I still forced into a narrative because I thought that they would be exciting. Individually I still feel like some of the ideas have some potential but together they most assuredly did not. I was “writing what I know” in the worst possible way. It was a story about a sarcastic little prick of a writer who somehow became the hero of the piece. Outsmarting the local politicians in a flurry of wit. Lets just say that overall the book was bad ranging to worse and I proudly paraded it around. Don't worry. It is gone now. I deleted all traces of it. But that wasn't the point that I am ambling towards.
Within the story there was an undercurrent of social manipulation. Brief glimpses of the interactions between the characters where one forced their will on the other so skilfully that it left the other content rather than affronted. At the time I laboriously described all of this and I recognised from my own rather limited experience that there could be a sexual undercurrent to these manipulations. By bringing these to the fore I thought that I could continue the work of the writers of the seventies that explored sexuality fearlessly and shocked critics with their frankness. I lacked a vital understanding of what I was writing about and I lacked the language to correctly describe it. Even now I am still picking up bits and pieces that would have been necessary to make sense of the scenarios that I was constructing. For those who have lived equally sheltered lives I will now be clear, I was writing about submissive and dominant relationships without having read about them, witnessed them or experienced any part of them. I was vaguely aware that some people were really into leather and getting slapped around. I had the internet. But I had no idea how what I considered to be an odd fetish slotted into my juvenile interpretation of the world.
We all have blind spots. Areas where our knowledge doesn't extend and that we most likely wouldn't want to become experts on. Yet those areas of expertise can be the thing that we are lacking in our writing. To be a writer, you have to become an expert on everything in the world, or at least fake it convincingly enough to full the real experts for as long as they are reading about something tangentially related to their area of interest. I am not saying that if you want to be a writer you should book yourself in for an appointment at the nearest dungeon, just that outside of honing your skills, expanding your horizons into places that you never thought that you would go is the easiest way to become a better writer.