I’ve been a particularly neglectful blogger these last few months. I’ve been kept busy with my two jobs, which has also meant I’ve had more money coming into my account since before I went to librarian school, which has meant money to go out into the world and do things, buy books and see shows, and enjoy the extravagance of three meals a day. What luxury! As such, I’ve spent less time fishing for ideas for the free entertainment writing a blog provides, and consequently don’t have a list of ideas for what I might write about. This post is all about banging the keyboard and seeing what comes out. Are you ready to wing it with me?
Good, I’m glad! Thank you for taking a chance.
I’m turning over that old piece of advice, to “write about what you know.” When taken literally, I think this sounds well-suited to essay-writing and not a lot else. It’s a way to get from A to B, to make a specific point, to get a particular message across. Most of the time I write to either find out what I know, think or feel about something. For me it’s a good way to clarify abstract ideas and arrange them in a way that makes sense. In my student days, it was an effective way to learn about something. I figure I was given a year to write a thesis because that’s about how long it should take to learn enough about a very specific subject, clarify what your thoughts are on it, and arrange them in a way that makes sense. And sometimes, like right now, I write just because I want to, which seems as good a reason as any, and better than many.
The first piece I remember writing was a letter to Santa. The second was, quite literally, a work of Enid Blyton’s. I copied out an entire Noddy book, traced the cover, stapled the whole thing together down the middle, wrote “Written by Erin,” on the front, then proudly showed my dad. I was flummoxed when he changed the cover to say, “Rewritten by…” and argued fiercely that I technically HAD written the entire thing, so could he please tippex over his two letter alteration. He duly explained my faux pas, that copying out an entire text did not entitle one to claim authorship. Given that it had taken me all morning to hand-write, illustrate and bind an entire book, I was decidedly unimpressed: for my next written work, I had to ask the teacher how to spell “funeral.” (Not even kidding, although I suspect this had more to do with the fact I had just been to one rather than a desire to attend another.)
I wish I could say it was an important lesson in plagiarism, but I think what it shows is probably that I was trying to write the kind of thing I wanted to read. I don’t think my later attempt to write a book called The Famous Four had anyone fooled. The four in question were completely different to The Famous Five but did find themselves in all the same situations. They also sported an uncanny resemblance to my school friends: I certainly wasn’t clever enough to come up with a racially diverse group of friends and a Sri Lankan character named Ruvani. I felt like these characters were my own though, so I put them in and called it original.
There was only one character who ever found herself in even slightly un-Famous situations, and she was an amalgam of a real person, every Blyton story I had ever read, and my own childish desires. The character Becky was usually a long lost sister who went to boarding school, could play the violin, run fast, had a dog; someone who had abilities I wanted and qualities I lacked. The real Becky moved interstate when we were six, though I kept her character in my pocket, to take out and imagine into new situations, as and when required. Presumably I got a little more creative as I levelled up at school and stopped writing about her, but for a couple of years this imagined Becky and I went on wonderful adventures in my head. They usually began with us finding out we were actually sisters (having never had one myself,) and she’d take me to boarding school with her where we’d have all sorts of fun solving mysteries and getting up to mischief. We were looked after by an older girl named Susan, who now that I think about it was lifted in her entirety out of Narnia. I must’ve outgrown Becky by the time Harry Potter came along, otherwise I’m certain we would’ve gone to magic school together too.
Reading over that last paragraph, I realise that my own fictions were nearly identical to something Enid Blyton might punch out, but in imagining myself into them, they became something I could experience more fully than passive observation might allow. Although I hadn’t exactly come up with them on my own, these stories belonged to me now. Perhaps it taught me to be in the real world where my actual best friend had moved to the far off land of Warrnambool. At the end of the following year, New Best Friend moved to Japan. The next one changed schools after two years, and a year after that the next moved to Tamworth. A year later, I was the one who changed schools, and it should perhaps come as no surprise to learn I spent most of the first term in the library. It was much the easiest way to feel like I was somewhere familiar.
Reading has the wonderful capacity to take you somewhere completely different while feeling wonderfully at home. And writing puts you right in the thick of it, with more agency than you might otherwise find you have.
Is “write about what you know,” another way of saying, “write about your experiences,” or “write about what you wish would happen”? Maybe that’s what I’ve always done, and changing details is a way to spice things up rather than protect anonymity, which my uninventive naming clearly failed to do. But I think the greater purpose is to turn What I Know into What Belongs to Me. All of this probably belongs on the more appropriately labeled shelf Things I Think. But if I start writing a story, you can be sure the goal will be to end up with something I’d like to read. At this stage there’s a strong likelihood it’d be set in Cornwall and about a rabbit named God, so now that my desire to write something has been satisfied, I think I’d best get back to reading.