- Books, Literature, and Writing
How to Write on a Subject You Know Absolutely Nothing About
Words matter. Without words, books would be only recycled trees. It's all good until dreaded writer's block descends. The coolest writers know how to continue writing. Conventional Wisdom suggests "write what you know." Herein we laugh at Conventional Wisdom. Conventional Wisdom can take a flying leap out a third story window. We expand on the coolest trick of all; writing on subjects about which you know nothing.
Here at the Writing Center for the Painfully Obvious, we endeavor to present topics that inspire writers to run to their studio, lock the door, and weep for the future of their craft. Is it Art or Science? We favor the term "ScienArt", which lets us off the hook without boiling down to actually meaning anything.
Settle on a Topic
Herein we tackle the age-old problem of pinpointing a topic. Laboring under the burden of "write what you know" tends to make this step slightly more difficult. Happily, we have freed ourselves from the shackles of foreknowledge. We prefer not to know anything, which is comfortable ground for most people.
Finding a topic is almost too easy. Walk through your house and be amazed at all the stuff you know nothing about. How does that TV remote actually work? Why is the thermostat set to 85 degrees? Where did those ants come from?
For illustration purposes our know-nothing-about-it topic will be the Banana Rat. Such a creature actually exists, but that hardly matters anyway. Feel free to Google it, or simply follow along as if you know nothing about it.
When in doubt, equivocate
When writing, the only absolute is that there are no absolutes. You have the unbridled freedom to toss out assertions that cannot be disputed, as long as you bridle them a little. For example, since the Banana Rat sounds icky because it has the word 'rat' it, you might be tempted to write "everyone hates the Banana Rat". That leaves you with nowhere to go. You might get a paragraph out of explaining how much the critter is despised and you'll certainly have most of your audience on your side, but you'll quickly find yourself at a dead-end.
Instead of globally condemning or extolling your topic, waver a little. Sit on the fence. Write something along the lines of "some cultures make a tasty meal of the Banana Rat." Your reader may be horrified, but nevertheless unable to dispute your assertion. We all know that somewhere in world somebody has eaten a Banana Rat, if only to get attention on the Food Channel. Instead of insisting that "everyone hates the Banana Rat", suggest that the rodent has been studied at universities and colleges around the world. You can't lose, as everything has been studied at universities and colleges around the world. Someone somewhere earned a PhD by spending a year living among Banana Rats. If you're fortunate, their dissertation no longer is available online.
Develop a list of waver-words; sometimes, perhaps, maybe, often, once in a while, could be, perchance, and probably many more.
Take a Contrary Position
Hold readers' interest by taking up a contrary but still vaguely defensible position.
"The Banana Rat makes a wonderful pet for young children."
At this point we've said nothing specific about the Banana Rat, nevertheless we can somehow make a weak case for keeping one as a pet.
Write broad statements that apply to pretty much anything.
"Banana Rats live in different parts of the world."
"Banana Rats prefer concert recordings to studio albums"
"Banana Rats have never been found on other planets"
It's a simple matter for the accomplished writer to extrapolate any of these statements into an entire paragraph. Using this strategy, Thomas Wolfe cranked out entire chapters without breaking a sweat.
Easily Triple the Length of Your Article
The first thing they teach you at Official Writers' School:
- Tell them what you're gonna tell them.
- Tell them.
- Tell them what you just told them.
Follow this simple template to easily triple the length of your work.
Add more words, repeat if necessary.
I was struck at 691 words, this vignette put us over the top.
Some images may be courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/