K – Write What You Don’t Know

People say to write about what you know. I’m here to tell you, no one wants to read that, cos you don’t know anything. So write about something you don’t know. And don’t be scared, ever.”

–Toni Morrison

I have written before on the idea of writing what I know. I’ve also written on my own fears of not knowing enough. Sometimes I get stuck halfway through a piece because there’s a niggling worry that I’m getting it all wrong or that my world is somehow incomplete.

Worldbuilding is, for me, a true pain. I want everything in place in my work. I want systems upon systems explained, if only in my head. But I don’t even know a fraction of anything about this everyday world outside my own head. Why, then, should I expect myself to know and understand every custom, culture, geographical region, etc, in my fiction?

I recently read an article called “Against Worldbuilding” in Electric Literature by Lincoln Michel about the way the concept of worldbuilding has gone from pertaining to a specific set of fiction (particularly fantasy and science fiction) to being widely applied to all genres, story types, and stories. Michel goes on to say that the concept of worldbuilding itself is a “counterproductive concept for most types of fiction” and offers the term “world conjouring” to use instead.

The idea of world conjouring is not to know everything in order to portray reality, but to give an illusion of a reality that can carry the reader forward. Rather than getting bogged down in the details, the writer instead conjours a world that a reader can believe in—even if not everything can be explained.

My ongoing struggle is finding a way to convince myself to conjour a world without knowing the systems or the build behind the illusion. In other words, I have trouble—in a lot of ways—of letting go of my own reality. But to write well, or to write a believable story, writers need to fall for their own illusions.

I hear characters in my head, so I guess I’m halfway there. Now I simply need to translate that world they see into one the reader can. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll find I know more than I thought.

Do you write what you know? What’s your take on worldbuilding?


J – Joy

Whatever I do is done out of sheer joy; I drop my fruits like a ripe tree. What the general reader or the critic makes of them is not my concern.
Henry Miller

Here is a corollary to Heart. This is a two-fold topic; the first part is finding  joy in  your creativity, joy in filling empty pages with words. It should be fulfilling in some way even if we’re frustrated with a project. Immerse yourself in the process and wring from it every last drop of joy and satisfaction.

It’s an inner game. We may need to suspend thinking about our plans for the piece. We may need to shut our minds to the process of publishing (or not). It takes a bit of determination and a bit of courage at the start. Letting yourself feel the joy of creating is allowed. In fact, it’s encouraged! If you don’t enjoy it, why do it?

The second part is letting go. When the project is done to the best of your ability (including beta readers and editors perhaps) it is time to move on to your next project. There’s a saying that a book isn’t finished by the writer. It’s finished by the reader. An artist doesn’t finish a canvas. The viewer does.

Our experience with a piece ends when we’re done. We get to keep the joy and satisfaction of its creation. We get to keep all we learned and all we expressed. Now it’s time to drop it like ripe fruit. Now is the time for your work to live in the world.

It doesn’t matter what the world thinks of it. Not really. The world can’t steal your joy in the creative process. And remember, people interact with books and art based on where they are and what they see. We have no control over their interpretation or experience. There’s no need to pay attention to who examines your fruit, who turns away from it, or who takes a bite. Your job is to keep making those fruits with sheer joy. No one can take that from you.

How much joy are you experiencing in your creative life?  Are you finding fulfillment? If not, what steps could you take to get more?

I – The Intersection of Inspiration and Ideas in Writing


“Turning I would to I did is the grammar of growing up.”
― Anthony Marra, The Tsar of Love and Techno

I just returned from a Tommy Emmanuel concert, so I’m on a bit of an inspiration high. In fact, during his concert, in between managing a solo operation of bass and melodies and rhythms and that constant motion of music, he said: I think life itself is a pretty good source of inspiration. He went on, however, to explain that he gets inspiration from anywhere or anything, and then proceeded to play a song that was inspired by a movie he’d seen—and particularly a character within it.

I find it interesting how artists of all breeds manage to take the everyday idea and craft it into something artistic. This intersection of inspiration and life—of finding our ideas from the lives we live every day—eventually becomes the foundation of our characters’ inner worlds, the words on the page, the stories we long to tell. I also find it interesting that many creative pieces are founded not so much even on general life—but on the people living it.

On another note, I recently read Anthony Marra’s “The Tsar of Love and Techno,” a collection of interconnected short stories that thematically revolve around one painting and the way it and the place it portrays affect a handful of characters’ lives over the course of several decades, primarily in Siberia and Chechnya. The story weaves together time and place and people, binding them though many don’t realize how they’ve been bound, and I remember putting it down after reading the final page, thinking: Wow. We’ve come full circle.

I have a special fascination and appreciation for the connectedness of ideas, especially when an author can craft a story that casts this link like a subtly shifting shadow: it never quite leaves your vision, but when the sun hits it just right, you catch a clear, glimmering fragment of truth. You start to wonder how you never saw it before: the way it holds you still.

Life is like this. We see it all in fragments. Ideas are much the same way. Inspiration, too, is often a ghost. Occasionally seen, but always fleeting. We have to carve our own paths and make our own inspiration, and if by chance, we have one of those moments where the words are clear and the music is alive, we should jump on the chance to complete the process.

Everything comes full circle. We are inspired by life and we find shadows of ideas simply by living it. Hopefully, we write them down, and in doing so we turn our I woulds into I dids, creating pieces we can be proud of, connecting ideas and building systems to complete a concert others will long to return to again and again: for the characters, for the music. For the voice that will hold them still.

What inspires you to write?

E – Erase the Public Other to Emerge in Your Writing

“The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

The only reason I ever became even semi-comfortable writing in a public venue like the Sarcastic Muse is because I have always carried the above-mentioned quote with me.

Given the volatile nature of the Internet, the multitudes of trolls, and even the expectations of the writing community itself, I always want to edit my work, especially when I know that others may be reading it. Of course, editing is an important step to putting a piece before the public, as it generally makes elements better, but for those who worry about public opinion (and in some respect, this means everybody), editing can just as easily turn into over-editing, filled with self-censorship and self-doubt. Even the other Muses have taken the embodiment of our readership—the others—into consideration before formally scheduling some of their own posts, asking: Do you think readers will be offended by my talking about this subject? Do you think this is too forward to post? Am I on my high horse?

And before you know it, we start removing our original thoughts, replacing them with ideas we perceive as less radical, less forward, less open to controversy, less offensive, and so on and so forth—all because we want to avoid conflict with strangers.

I disagree with this, of course. As a principle, I believe that if I have something worth writing about, something I feel strongly enough to write about for the public (even while trying to imagine—for sanity’s sake—that no one will bother to read it), then I should believe in it enough to post it.

To write the truth, you must assume no one will ever read it. In the end, you cannot make everyone happy with your words. Undoubtedly at some point, you will get a troll comment or maybe a reader will (hopefully) politely disagree with your ideas. And that’s okay. That is the point of expressing ourselves to others: to open ourselves to the perspectives of other people, even those who may not think like we do, and in turn to be opened by others.

As long as we can express ourselves tastefully and respectfully, we are at the helm of our own creative work. We must imagine we are erasing our thoughts into cyber-space, rather than generating them—that in erasing the notion of the unseen other, we are actually emerging in our words. And we should be proud when those others, the unknown public eyes, take the time to read our thoughts and even to comment their own in return. Because in doing so, we grow: as a community and as individuals.

Good writing should be honest. Even if the truth belongs only within the realm of our own understanding. So speak boldly and emerge.

Assume the only person in the world you’re writing to is yourself.

What do you think? Do you censor yourself before posting anything to the public?

C – Chaos

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.” 

― Friedrich Nietzsche

Stardust dancing. Chaos splitting. We’re spinning, spinning . . . And I once pondered, am still pondering: What are these symbols—these words—that grow from those moments of connecting the disconnected? What are we if not the clearest representation of the beauty of a broken world? We are writers. We endure our inner-workings falling apart—falling together. Falling, all the same.

Falling . . . words often give me that sensation, as if I am falling up, toward a far-away point-of-no-return. Toward a reality that’s waiting just around the corner. My reality, a star—or dust—or some flickering light in between.

I have always seen words through gradients of potential: my potential savior, my potential weapon, my potential pain, my potential voice, my potential a glimmering supernova: the death of a star, not the birth of one. Go out with a bang, right?

Chaos doesn’t require a map. Neither does writing. That’s my problem. I’m always trying to define it: this wordy existence. But words often define themselves in layers (more gradients). I once analyzed poetry as a connection of systems: weave together unrelated systems with metaphor, build these abstract and complex meaning patterns (that probably no one else but me understands) based on the familiar systems we interact with on a daily basis. But words, though systematic in nature, are derived from something more illusory and subtle (or not-so-subtle, depending on your muse), from meanings we grow from ourselves and then define for others. The goal is simply to contain the energy enough that at least one person sees the burning mass at the center.

And that’s why I write, why I’ve always written. Not necessarily to create—to give birth to new stars—but to write about the dying ones, the chaotic universe in my own head. To write about the in-between places, to create my own internal systems.

Words give me the means to evolve—to make potential my reality: spinning spinning and stardust all the same.

How does chaos find its way into your writing? Let me know in the comments!