It”s time to change the first rule of writing. The old “write what you know” just isn’t cutting it. It is an impossible rule to break. No one writes what they don’t know for the very simple fact that they don’t know. If I didn’t know that birds fly south for the winter you would not see me writing an article on “bird migration patterns.” Birds migrate? Why the thought never occurred to me.

Even the ones who are in violation to this rule still think they know. If they honestly thought they didn’t know it would not occur to them to write it. It would be like telling someone who only knew Spanish, “Now don’t start talking in Swedish or we’re done for!” This rule neither inhibits bad writing nor encourages good. It is useless.

 If we are only allowed to write what we know what room does that leave for creativity? Nobody tells painters “only paint what you know.” We would have a very limited Art collection if painters were not free to invent fantastic representations of reality unknown to any human at the time of their creation. Where would the Sistine chapel be is someone has insisted that Michelangelo “know” what God looked like before painting Him? Think of the limitations on Actors. “Have you ever been a mass murderer? No? Well I’m sorry you can’t have the part. You can only Act what you know.”

I think a better first rule of writing would be, “Never write to write.”  Writing is a medium not an end. It is a way to communicate ideas, thoughts, and sometimes dreams. The foremost cause of writers block is to write for the sake of filling a page up with words that will somehow make sense. Any college student knows the truth of this rule.  How many college students have stared perplexed at their screens because the goal of their paper is to have X many words by this deadline. Their focus is wrong. It is not on the subject but on the writing which by itself is nothing,

Writing is a verb. It can only be present in the action of communicating an idea in your head to words on paper. Actors must forget that they are acting in order to act natural. Writers also must forget that they are writing. It is in the beautiful unconscious moments of inspiration that writing can really flourish. It is almost a giving up of self that allows true writing to happen. Once the self is introduced by the exposure of the medium (in this case writing) creating becomes a tedious task. Never write to write or you will end up with a blank page to nowhere.

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