Wednesday, 29 December 2010

"You should only write

what you know about. I keep telling you that. I mean it's a waste of time writing fiction anyway. Nobody is going to read it. You will never get anything published. Why don't you just give up and do something useful?"
Only what I know about? Yes, you do keep telling me that. Writing fiction is a waste of time? It is my time. Nobody is going to read it? I am never going to get anything published?Something useful?
I was told all this firmly, indeed very firmly, yesterday. The person telling me sat there, as she had sat there for the past hour, and said all this and then added, "I am only telling you this for your own good Cat. You really should give up on the idea. It is not going to happen. You are just wasting your time. I know you always wanted to write but you have to face facts. You are never going to get anything published. Writers don't make money. You are much too old anyway."
The person handing out all this unwelcome advice claims to be a friend. It has always been a very one-sided "friendship". I do nothing to encourage it. She turns up occasionally and wastes my time by sitting for an hour or more telling me about her children, in whom I have no interest. They are not interesting children - or not when she talks about them.
This individual has "no time to read". She is too busy making sure her children "do things" - things that she has organised. The children do not read much either.
All this does not prevent her from offering me advice. It is not the first time she has offered such advice. She is not the only person who has offered me such advice. None of these people actually write anything themselves. None of them do much reading apart from a newspaper - if that.
It is only politeness that stops me from yelling, "Get out and don't come back."
I doubt that even that would do any good however. She knows she has upset me. It is her intention. She really does believe that she is telling me this for my own good and that upsetting me is the only way she is going to get me to stop "wasting time".
"What do you mean by 'something useful'?" I ask.
"Oh, I don't know take up a hobby of some sort."
"I have hobbies...reading..."
"That's not a hobby. You only do that if you have to. It's not productive."
"So it has to be productive?"
"Yes. Your knitting might qualify - although that is pretty slow. We really will have to find you something else to do. Then you won't waste so much time."
"Oh right. Well I was up at 4:30 this morning to talk to someone on the 'net. I have made breakfast, done some housework, answered thirty-seven work related e-mails, read the next chapter of someone's doctoral thesis and sent comments back, proof-read a submission for someone else and prepared lunch while you were talking to me..."
"And I may appear to be home all day but I do work from here. I have more than enough to occupy my time. If I want to spend my free time reading and writing then I will do that."
"No Cat, you just don't understand do you? You are wasting time. We have to get you out of the house and doing something. Never mind. I'll think of something. I must go. I have to pick the kids up from their swimming class."
She sails off without waiting for a further answer. A few minutes later my father peers cautiously around the door and asks, "Has she gone? That woman wastes so much time!"


Frances said...

That woman is both rude and wrong.

Nicole MacDonald said...

I am sending big hugs your way. That person is an utter DORK!! Breathe deep and next time she knocks holler out 'I'm NOT home' ;p if that doesn't get the hint across then you could try my grandads trick.. He opens the door stares the person in the face silently for a moment then slams the door shut *lol* he is one grouchy old man!! But it works *hee*

Take care and do know that this person thoroughly enjoys 'wasting their time' reading your blog *grin*

Frances said...

Cat: Only writing what you know about seems to me analogous to only inventing a gadget that you already have.
No room for creativity, imagination or invention in that attitude. She must hate Shakespeare.

catdownunder said...

Oh dear, nice of both of you. We have never been able to convince this woman that we do not want her to be part of our lives. She still keeps turning up - and inviting us out.
The really odd thing is that she wastes so much time!

Anonymous said...

Can't write huh? I hope you do get something published one day just to show her.

Rachel Fenton said...

Well, here's one person who knows you can write.

Anonymous said...

Oh Cat, You know in your heart of hearts what your calling in life is, what makes you happy, what makes your family and friends happy and where you want your life to go. Only you can make those decisions so accept her words gracefully (as I have to do several times a day from my mother to my partner to my friends and even complete strangers) Smile politely and nod your head. All the while saying out loud in your head and your heart - I will show you all. One day I will show you all. Take care Happy New Year xx

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Dear Cat

Your friend has done you a favour. She has made you look critically at what you are doing, and made you even more strongly sure that you are doing exactly what you have to.

"Write what you know..." is trotted out by writing teachers all over the place. What does it mean, in the end?? I can tell you and your friend what it odes not mean - it does NOT mean you have to restrict yourself to events, characters, stories that are close to some reality you've experienced. If that was what it means, there would be no place for imagination.

See, you have imagination. You can put yourself in the shoes of anyone you like, and feel what they feel. The words will be emotionally authentic.

Maybe your friend does not have an imagination - or, maybe she does, poor love, but is so busy rushing around organising everyone else's lives for them, that she does not give herself space to dream.

'Write what you know' means absolute freedom to create. Because all we have to do is give our own emotional knowledge to our characters, and let them loose. And that is where age is a bonus. I'm pushing 60. No idea how old you are - but I would not have been able to create characters and give them the richness of life that I do now, ten, twenty, thirty or more years ago.

Thank her, quietly, for her silliness. Without it, you would not recognise the steel in your backbone.

happy writing. vx

Allison said...

Write what you know is not really a stopper. I recall reading that J. M. Barry once said he only knew himself & his mother well enough to use as a base for characters and look at all his wonderful characters in Peter Pan.

I've wanted to write fiction since grade school. Fifty years later I've just about accepted that it probably won't happen. I like what I wrote as a child but I don't like anything I've tried to write as an adult.

You, however...

Please keeping writing. I don't know how you'll do with fiction but I do know how you've made me feel with so many of your blog essays over the last half year. That takes skill.

Please continue 'to waste your time' and I'll continue to 'waste' mine reading what you write. Don't let someone with no finer feelings and no imagination influence you.

Sheep Rustler said...

I have had friends like that. Note the use of the past tense! As I get older I get choosier about who i let into my life and my family. Maybe next time she drops in you could be just out on your way to 'do' something. And I feel sorry for her children, who probably would be interesting if given half a chance and not organised so much! I have never met a child who was not interesting given the opportunity to spend some time with themselves.

Melinda Szymanik said...

I don't 'write what I know', I 'write what I WANT to know' and it has worked very well for me :) And how much fun would it be to write her in to a story and then give her an appropriate fate :)

And never give up! Your next post on the benefits of going without a car is wonderful

Melinda Szymanik said...

oh and no one else else has the right to tell you what your dreams are or to take them away. What cheek!

catdownunder said...

Oh, thanks all of you! I do not regard this woman as a friend. She is a menace but nothing we say or do seems to deter her from pursuing us. (My father has been much too kind and patient with her in the past.)
Vanessa she is definitely not a friend - but you are so right about her doing me a only have to say "you can't" to me and I start working on ways of doing it. :-)
I am going to go on writing...and I will not have time to do whatever she plans - if she gets time to plan it!

Anonymous said...

That woman should be shut up in a fiction library and made to read!

Anonymous said...


If you can't write then I guess we are all wasting our time reading your words! I can handle that sort of time wasting! I look forward to it every day!

Judy B

Imogen said...

This absolutely made me fizz!! - with anger for you, that you should be treated so unjustly and bossed about so snottily, and also with recognition, as I've had to listen to similar "more in sorrow than anger" speeches myself about the pointlessness of creative activity. She is wrong and judgemental; be glad she is not a member of your family, and then get rid of her. Is it really essential to be endlessly polite to someone who is so crushingly rude to you? I'm with Melinda - write a portrait of her and send her fictionalised self up the creek without a paddle...