When it comes to writing, most experts say to write what you know. This can be daunting and can also delay the writing. There’s a certain panic that accompanies autobiographical storytelling. It’s deeply personal, beautifully raw, and hella-costly. Since I’ve been teaching high school creative writers, I find myself telling them to write from personal experiences a lot less. In fact, they will more so get advice from me that encourages them to write about what they are discovering; what they are curious about; what they can vividly see in their imaginations; what they have observed from a neutral/reliable viewpoint, or what they can research and show as creatively as possible. As a mentor to vulnerable authors, I have learned that more often than not, young writers need their privacy and time to process their personal experiences before they spill their guts on paper. I’m 35, and I still need “writer’s process time”.
Last week, on Mother’s Day, I posted a flash fiction piece on my blog, called: Absorbing. (Note: I invite you to read it again since it has been updated.) The short story is about a successful woman, perhaps a producer or CEO of some sort, who has moved to a secluded beach home to take in her new life as a single woman. A student of mine came across it and asked what inspired me to write the story. I said, “The figurine of the black woman in the bathtub. I saw it one day on Amazon and I–” “No,” she cut me off. “The woman in your story gets a divorce and isolates herself from society. Exactly what kind of head space are you in?” she cackled. “An imagination space,” I snapped back. I then explained that while I am not the woman in my story, parts of me inspired her character; therefore, I do identify with her on a few levels…
Level 1: Baths. I have always been a soaker. That part about the steam-infused hair and inhibitions dissolving ✋ …a total reflection of the bath time tradition I started in the nineties and continue today. My best baths soaks were in my home in Arkansas. That was nearly 5 years ago… Please let me soak…
Level 2: The weight of social media. Most times, I get why we’re on there. I see the art of networking, the sharing of information, the freedom of expression, and the power of connection– all clearly at work. We have become quite mad in our need for post validation and I often wonder “why are we doing this to ourselves?” I often feel the heaviness that comes with the constant need to be plugged in, seen, and verified. I put myself on restricted social media access back in 2017. Sometimes, I just have more joy being unaware.
Level 3: Eternal motherhood. The age of the woman in my story is unknown, but what we do know is that she has multiple children who are all grown. I, on the other hand, am so far from my children being grown… I can’t even imagine! But I, like the unnamed character, like every good mother, think about my children constantly. They are forever on my mind. My mom says the loving concern is even more profound when they are grown.
On a surface level, ‘ol girl drinks coffee, enjoys sweet stuff and yoga, jogs in Nikes, listens to old school r&b, and covers her gray. I have a lot in common with this sister, but I can’t afford coastal living. And if I could afford to escape to a glorious, secluded, southern beach home, my baby daddy gotta come too. 😂❤
Clinnesha is a writer, wife, mom, meta-artist, and social entrepreneur who feels most accountable to southern, black citizen-artists, elders, children, and families. Her work is at the intersection of arts, culture, innovation, and community.
2 thoughts on “Serenity Sunday: Don’t always write what you know”
I love this so much. I agree that writing what you know is a one size fits all solutions that rarely works for all. I love grabbing ahold of something I know little about and using my writing process to learn about it. Inevitably, pieces of me and my experiences will influence the writing because I am sharing my filtered interpretations and I love that. It is interesting to me that so many people assume that we are being autobiographical when we engage in fictional explorations.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I hate when people read something that I’ve written and automatically think I’m expressing my raw emotion for public consumption…like I haven’t matured enough for the “process time” or like my writing can’t be a creative mixture of whatever I want it to be! Just because I write in first person doesn’t mean it’s all about me or my lives experiences. I love how you remind us that writing can be “inspired” by rather than a complete replicate of real life. Thanks for this validation of my own feelings!
LikeLiked by 1 person