Don’t just sit back and be quiet. Be ready to say something. There is a subtle culture war raging against the individual holding resolute and objective beliefs in just about anything. Writers in particular can be vanguards in countering this, both in movement and in idleness. Freedom from fear of offending. Freedom from fear of bridge-burning. Freedom from fear of loneliness and guile. This mix is the writer’s juice, his only passage through the armed checkpoints of manner and polite society.
The writer will be told to “write what you know,” a ploy meant to imprison really complex and nuanced ideas and instead “output” (like machinery would) standardized, flat and “universal” meanings (the dreaded “universal themes” trope). All in the name of selling, rather than conveying, to an audience. When he writes what he knows, he relies on filtering the external onto the page. This results in factory-style writing wrapped in a big game of pretend and mimicry. This is writing merely as craft, which can be boring, trite and laborious.
Additionally, part of the writer’s task is to make-believe: To inhabit the world and minds of people they aren’t and make them into characters that see the world through the writer’s lens. That is what the literary giants do, for example, Woody Allen, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway who wrote some of the most unique, authentic and varied female characters in modern literature. Pieces of themselves projected through the writer’s lens into a completely different human being.
In order for the genuine and the original to find its way onto the page, the writer imbues his characters with his own ‘Philosophy On Everything,’ from the puny to the profound. This applies to characters old, young, decrepit, corrupt, evil, good, unrequited and redeemed. It applies across genres as well. Genres, of course, are additional ‘containers’ meant to limit actual exploration through the ‘craft’ of writing. Writers shatter their ‘Philosophy On Everything’ into a million pieces and reform its core components in their characters and the story they live. In that story the writer’s core beliefs, and all their underlying contradictions, coalesce back into a simultaneously original and new whole being pulled at from all sides by the characters themselves. Like a circus big top being pulled taught by a thousand tent polls.
Authentic characters believe and give voice to what the writer believes and either live that truth or rebel against it on the page. Writing, even if trivial, resonates when there is conviction. This conviction that everyone and everything in the universe on the page lives and breathes; either, in support, ambiguity or as anti-thesis. In other words, at the risk of marching a maudlin parade, it’s not about merely writing what they know; rather, it’s about writing who they are.