Nathan Englander (author of For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank) was terrified of the phrase “Write what you know.” To him though, his fear of writing about his ordinary suburban life was a gross misinterpretation of the phrase. What he knew was that he once held a deep longing for the Atari 2600, as he described in a recent Big Think video.
When I thought about “write what you know,” and I really thought about it I understood. What it is is empathic advice. It’s advice about feeling. You know most of the books that we truly love don’t exist because these things did not happen to the people that were writing them. But why do we love those books? Why do they change us why do they ouch our hearts? Why do they hold so much meaning? Because they are truer than true, because there is a great knowing within them. And I think what’s behind “write what you know” is emotion. Like, have you known happiness? Have you ever been truly sad? Have you ever longed for something? And that’s the point. If you’ve longed for an Atari 2600 as I did when I was 12, like all I wanted was that game console. You know what I’m saying? If you’ve felt that deep longing, that can also be a deep longing for a lost love or the liberation of your country, or to reach mars. You know, that’s the idea. If you know longing you can write longing. And that is the knowing behind “write what you know.”
Do we still long for the Atari? Artist Hollis Brown Thorton would say we do.
[via The Daily Beast]