How To Write With Your Nose

OK, perhaps I had a bit of fun with the title, in an attempt to catch your attention.  But maybe… just maybe, there is something to the titular phrase. 

I’ve gone on and on in the past about the old idea that as a writer you must “write what you know“, and have flamed a bit about it, saying that there seems to be a trap in that.  Think about it, how much experience do you have with ghosts?  How many hours have you spent in the cockpit of a jet fighter?  If you are a “natural-born killer” the chances are you are more a person of action than a writer.

Clearly if we only wrote what we know, our books would suffer.  So would we. 

I recently came across a statement by Sol Stein in his book, “How to Grow a Novel” where he discusses this issue.  “A writer cannot write what he does not read with pleasure”, he says.  But even that sounds a bit iffy to me.  Stein says it in a way that suggests we can only write about the things we’ve read about, but doesn’t that bring up the old chicken and the egg conundrum?

Certainly we cannot write what we cannot create in our minds, and perhaps that finally, is the key to it all.  Creativity.  Vision.  Imagination.  What we can imagine, fully clothed and nuanced, or what we can develop from a smattering of notions, adding atom upon atom, idea upon idea, must be in the end, what it is that we can write about.

We can… we must, I think, “follow our nose”.   We must allow instinct, unrestricted in idea, unfettered in application, to be our guide in finding what we shall write about.

And sometimes, sometimes…  sometimes we must create out of whole cloth.   Sometimes we must just sit back and make it up.  But then, isn’t that the way we startle our reader?


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