Show, don't tell. Learn the rules before you break them. Read everything. Write what you know.
For writers, these maxims are mother's milk, the advice we are raised on (or rather, on which we are raised. Yet another mandate: never end a sentence with a preposition). Some are practical, some more theoretical. Some are easy to master, others require a bit more wrangling. All are taught and passed down through generations of writers to help us tell the best stories in the best way possible.
For me, the "write what you know" dictum was always a thorny prospect. In a broad sense, it's meant to encourage writers to draw on their own experiences and truths, so even if they're writing amazingly intricate stories of boy wizards saving the magical realm, there is still something tangible and human with which the reader can connect.
In a much more direct way, it's a call to pursue a genre in which you literally write what you know — a memoir, a story or collection of stories about your life as a whole or a particular event or time period. After all, what does one know better than her own life story? It's a perennially popular, lucrative genre, and when you take a look at some of the people who have authored memoirs, it's easy to say, "Well, hell, I could do that."
I, of course, have been planning my memoirs since I became aware that someone would pay you to write a book entirely about yourself (possible titles include I'm Not Drunk, I'm Just Awkward; Confessions of a Brunette; or Oprah's Birthday Twin ). Committing The Life and Times of Kristen Scatton to paper seemed like not only a great idea, but an inevitability.
However, during a recent bout of memior-reading ( Yes, Please by Amy Poehler, I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton), it dawned on me that despite the urging to write what I know, perhaps my utterly uneventful childhood, standard suburban adolescence, typical college career, and fairly stable adulthood may not be the stuff memoirs are made of (of which... oh, F-it). The realization that you're probably not going to be joining the ranks of idols like Tina Fey and David Sedaris can be a bit of an emotional one.
I can't wait to write a memoir! I know what it will be called, I know how the jacket will look, who I'll dedicate it to. This is going to be literally the best thing ever.
I have an amazing story to tell! My life is fascinating and my insights are brilliant! People are going to crack up when I tell the story of the time a wheel fell off my car while I was driving it, cheer me on as struggle through a very fraught freshman year of college, and be moved by my heartfelt remembrances of my late father.
Actually... that stuff's interesting and all to me, but what exactly about any of it is so fascinating? And are my insights really that brilliant? What have I got to say that hasn't already been said by women who are much stronger, funnier and more accomplished than I am?
Really, I must have done something of interest with my life by now. I am 30, after all. Come on, think, Scatton, think...
Oh my God, my life has been completely and utterly normal, and I've done nothing of importance, for myself or the good of humanity. I've spent 30 years trying to be special, to leave my mark, and I've only succeeded in being the most basic person ever.
I have to get out there and do something incredible RIGHT NOW. I have to travel the world! Discover a cure for Ebola! Create a blog that becomes a YouTube series that becomes a movie that becomes a book!
Can happen simultaneously with Panic. Who the hell are all these people who write memoirs, anyway? What makes them so freaking special? Look at you with your unconventional marriage or your struggle with drug abuse or your abandonment issues from when your parents divorced. I COULD HAVE HAD ABANDONMENT ISSUES TOO, BUT MY PARENTS TOOK 'TIL DEATH DO US PART SERIOUSLY!
I am a terrible person. I would never wish that my parents split or I had a drug habit just so I would have something to write about. God, now I'm just a normal person, I'm a crappy normal person.
You know, maybe it's better this way. Do I really want to put my whole life on display? Do I want to exploit my friends and family like that? The people who know me know my story, and maybe that's enough. There are too many people talking about themselves in the world anyway.
Although, there is still time. Life is short, but it is wide. I'm only a third of the way through my life — there's plenty of time to do something memoir-worthy...
I always say, everything happens when it's meant to, so...maybe I should copyright those titles after all.
Images: Getty Images, Giphy