One day not so long ago it was raining and I was coming home from a good dinner out with my Shimmy Mob Memphis dance sisters when I spotted a toad by my back door.
He was up on the deck railing which is as high and as close as any toad has ever come before. We stood for a while, he and I, without moving as the rain sprinkled down all around us.
Of course he was unbothered by it, rain being a thing natural to him. It is this that got me thinking. Does rain feel unnatural to you? If so when did that start happening?
Children take joy in playing in the rain. Adults, well it depends on the adult. I was taking great pleasure in the plunk of raindrops on my head while I took a few pictures of my new companion with my phone. I was not listening to the adult voice in my head which said go get your umbrella first. I ignored that adult voice because I was sharing a joyful raindrop moment with my toad friend and when you share a moment, it is best to stay in it. Once lost it never comes again.
When we are writing we tend to write what we know and that is the advice usually given to young, new and aspiring writers. Well it’s the advice given to all of us really, even those of us who have been writing for a while. It’s one of those things most people don’t even question but accept as factual and true. Kind of like when it’s raining out, take your umbrella.
So we walk around carrying our adult umbrellas and sometimes we forget how to play and how to reach out beyond that. If we always reach for the umbrella we miss the experiences that fall outside of that comfortable dry spot beneath the umbrella.
Let’s play with this one a bit. Splash around in the rain with me for a moment and put the umbrella down. Place the write what you know umbrella in the corner for a moment and lets see what’s splashing outside of that dry spot.
What if you were to write something you did not know, something you were in the process of learning?
What if you were to write about that learning process?
What if you were to write a fictional story while you were still researching and fact checking?
Some raindrops fall farther from the umbrella than others. It is okay to play in the rain and get wet. It can be great fun to splash around once in a while and play with your writing.
My fourth book of fiction, Trapping the Butterfly, is set in the 1920’s in Hot Springs, Arkansas USA. I wrote it on spec. Had pitched the story idea to my editor and she loved the idea and sent me a contract. I wrote the first couple chapters while researching at the same time. As the story came together I was doing the follow up research almost til I typed “the end” Some of what I thought I knew turned out not to be historically accurate, for that town in that year. If I had held back writing the story until I did all the research first it would have been more difficult to meet my deadline.
Some might argue that the process of writing this way would lead to a sloppy or inaccurate book. My counter argument would simply say this book is now up for a RONE award. I offer this as proof the process did not hurt the book or this author. In fact it was a joy to write and is my favorite work of fiction of all my stories so far.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to write about, but haven’t because you don’t feel knowledgable enough? Try setting that umbrella aside. Step out into the rain and play a little. You might discover joy in the writing process.
You might meet a toad companion and share a joyful moment. That alone is worth stepping out into the rain.