Write what you know, they say. And while you’re at it, write something people actually want to read.
Okay, got it. Sounds easy enough. Except that it’s not. Sometimes writing about what you know can be difficult, especially if it dredges up powerful emotions or painful memories. The “safe” stuff that I know centers around family, religion, spirituality, psychology, human relations, teaching, and feng shui. But often those topics are boring to others unless a writer has a way of making them interesting.
Then there’s the fact that people like different things. I like the work of Marilynne Robinson, and an acquaintance recently said, “Good Lord, why?” This person likes mysteries. Others like travel accounts, romance novels, crime books, and philosophy texts. One of my grandsons loves Rapunzel’s story and had his picture made with her this summer. (He knows only the Disney version from Tangled, and I don’t have the heart to tell him the Grimm Brothers’ version.)
You get my point. Different strokes for different folks.
The other evening I interrupted my husband’s reading and asked him to read me a paragraph from the book he was enjoying on his Kindle. It was an action-packed scene, one that was so graphic and descriptive that I could visualize the adventure and hear the shouting. It wasn’t my cup of tea, though.
“Now it’s my turn to read something to you, I said.
Somewhat annoyed, he put down his Kindle. I’d been reading a section on primal religions in Huston Smith’s Major World Religions and was fascinated by the fact that because they have an oral tradition, literacy is unknown to them. Here’s the section I read: “Because writing can grapple with meanings explicitly, sacred texts tend to gravitate to positions of such eminence as to be considered the preeminent if not the exclusive channel of revelation….The invisibility of their texts, which is to say, their myths, leaves their eyes free to scan for other sacred portents, virgin nature and sacred art being the prime examples.“
Truthfully, I didn’t read to the end of the second sentence because he stopped me with, “Why do you read stuff like that?”
“I don’t know. I just like it, I guess. And I was trying to make a point.”
“People have different types of minds and interests, so naturally they’re not going to like the same types of reading material.”
He agreed and went back to his Kindle.
I’m glad we shared that moment. It fortified me for the next morning at our writing group meeting. Someone told me he couldn’t read all of my manuscript because he couldn’t “cotton to” the subject matter. He thought it was well-written, but well, it just wasn’t his cup of tea. Inwardly, I smiled because he had eased my mind about what I knew I had to say about his document. I couldn’t read it all. It wasn’t something I could cotton to. It wasn’t my cup of tea.
Generally, every member reads every piece the others submit. Even if it’s poorly written, we diligently go through a manuscript and make what we hope to be helpful, complimentary, encouraging, and honest comments. But not this time. This time was different. And that’s okay.
I read Maya Angelou’s Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now on the beach this morning. It’s not a book my husband, grandson, or writing group critic would like, but different strokes for different folks, right? And besides, I couldn’t resist the bait on the inside jacket: “Maya Angelou has packed the wisdom of a lifetime into this small book.”