“Write about what you know.” This is the advice dispensed to aspiring writers worldwide, to give birth to (or in some cases, regurgitate) that which is already inside of us rather than reach out into thin air and try to mold and shape something that isn’t there. We are told repeatedly to draw on our own experiences, to speak with our own voices. This can be difficult advice to follow, particularly for one whom writes fiction, but it is the very best advice for the young writer. And the worst.
Knowing that passion (bordering on obsession), talent, and perseverance alone aren’t enough, that one much also have a secret box of lush experiences to draw from in order to make a writer great causes a life-long problem for the truly dedicated writer. This person now craves experience, and not the mundane, generic experience of everyday life (although that can be very fulfilling itself). No, the writer now seeks to experience every emotion in the human spectrum, from apathy to madness, to have done everything from climbing Everest to falling in love with a stranger.
More often than not, we are unprepared (ironic, for people who dwell on and write about emotion at such great length) for the very best and worst of these emotions, simultaneously amazed and devastated at how enormous feelings can be, at how deeply we feel. Yet, masochistic creatures that we are, most writers produce their very best work while in the depths of despair. During some suffocating bout of emotional or physical ache, whether it be in the shape of loss, heartbreak, illness, or mere longing, we consistently use our words as a means to gasp for breath.
Is the writer drawn to their craft because that individual feels too deeply? Or perhaps because they want to immerse themselves further into emotion and words on paper are the bridge that helps them better connect with other human beings? Is pain the fuel that a writer needs in order to be extraordinary? Or is writing merely their escape from their own pain? I don’t know the answer to these questions; I probably never will and a large part of me doesn’t care. What I do know is that, for whatever reason it is, there are millions of beautiful, moving works of literature in the world, the vast majority of which were conceived by people who had suffered. They managed to reshape their pain into something extraordinary. They made a square peg fit into a round hole. Maybe that’s the point.