“Write what you know” was standard advice in the writing classes I took as a beginning writer. I felt smug about the advice because I was planning to write a memoir of my nursing career, so, naturally, I knew my topic from head to toe very well.
I did not hear a second part to that phrase until I read an article, “Why I Don’t Want to Quit My Day Job” in last month’s The Writer. The author, Jacob Appel, says, “Write what you know and what nobody else knows” (pp. 16-17).
“…what nobody else knows.” At first read, I thought Well, a lot of people are nurses, so there are a lot of people who know what I know, so this added advice isn’t helpful to me. In fact, it seems to invalidate what I’ve done in writing my career memoir.
But I wasn’t about to ponder that for long–that would mean I’d wasted almost ten years of my life–so I dug up other advice I’d learned in writing classes that it’s “my take” on my experiences that makes them different from everyone else’s.
Now I was warmed up! I thought of my stories in Caring Lessons about giving my first enema that turned into “jumping fountains,” giving a lecture on elimination that caused a student years later to say she hadn’t eaten liverwurst since, and …the list of my “unique” take on my experiences went on in my head.
So, if you’ve been hesitant to write about your life, thinking it’s too dull and ordinary, make a list of some events that have happened. Then, next to each one, write how you responded. I’m sure you’ll find that you acted or felt in a different way from a sibling or a friend.
And there’s your story. Follow Appel’s advice and “(w)rite what you know and what nobody else knows.” I’d like to hear about the” jumping fountains” in your life that should not have jumped!