They tell us to “write what we know” and if the we in this story is like me, we will laugh because our lives are boring. What could we say that would be worthwhile? We will know, on the inside, that this advice is not meant to be taken at face value. We won’t keep this in mind when we write frantically in our journals about the things we cannot say. There are things we might like to say, but won’t. It’s all been said before.
If the we in this story is like me, we will read a piece in McSweeny’s begging students to write something, anything, other than their own experiences, and we will laugh because it will be true. When taken literally, we’re told to write about school field trips, struggles with friendships, and failed first loves. These will not be interesting stories.
We will know that there are people in the world who’ve faced war, dying mothers, identity struggles, chaos, trauma. We will have classes with these people, be friends with these people, know them intimately. But we will not be these people. We will only have struggled to break away from the faith of our youth, and cried too much in therapy because we never got over our fear of being judged. We will worry if our resistance to writing what we’ve lived will be more of that fear, but we will not write it, except for now.
This will not be interesting. At least not to us. We know that we could make this interesting with well-crafted sentences and the perspective granted by time, but we will not care. Because we, as writers of fantasy and fiction, would rather take what we know, and hide it in a lie.
We would rather set our truth on a different planet or in a place where swords are still logical. Because, on the inside, we do know something. We know too much from having been observers of the world. We will steal bits of the lives that wrap around our own and give them homes in other stories. We will create people to represent us as puppets and make the puppets dance.
To write what we know means to write what has affected us but not what we have seen, touched, or experienced. The incident itself matters little, the slime it left behind matters a lot. We will know, at the end of the day, writing what we know is not writing what we have lived. It is taking what we have learned and transforming it.
The more we think on it, the sooner we will know we’ve had the truth in front of us all along. Really, what we hated, what we laughed at, was the misunderstanding. The misunderstanding will be as much our fault as anyone else’s. But still. What we know is so much more than what we have done. What we know is also what we can imagine.
We will write what we wish we knew. We will write to find the answers that we never got. We will write to make up better endings for ourselves. We will write the lives we wish we could live. We will write the voices we wish we could hear.
Because we will know our lives in their entirety have been told a thousand times before. If you look, you’ll find innumerable versions of us, of me, in people who know how to say it better than I, we, can. Why not let the space we want to fill with words be filled with something that has never been heard before? We are creatives after all. We should create. Let the thing we make be a new thing. Why shouldn’t we try and leave an impression on the world? Our lives won’t matter, but our stories might. Why shouldn’t we leave our space empty all together so that the voices who have been silenced by time and oppression, that trauma we mentioned earlier, can fill it.
Why must we fill it?
When we are forced to put our own name to the words, we will dance around it, conjure ghosts to protect us, and pretend. But we don’t know what else to do with ourselves, and in the quiet of the night our voices eke out the story we need to tell through someone else’s mouth.
Mariel Tishma, Assistant Editor