If you type into a search engine the phrase "write what you know" you are likely to come up with more than 87 million hits. No one who is still breathing can possible read more than about 3 of these (I only went by the top 2). It is however, comforting to know that this topic has been covered a few times before.
People say write what you know, as if it is that simple. As if each of us has one, perhaps two, topics of expertise that we can wax poetic about easily and endlessly. Nice idea, especially considering that most people expect that your particular knowledge stems from what you DO. Your job, your career, your work; whatever it is, it all makes it easier to decipher whether you ought to laugh at someone or bow down before them. If you know what category to place people into, you can then figure out where each person falls into the grande scheme of things, which is a particularly helpful thing to do when you live in a society where everyone is a critic.
I have never quite known what my area of expertise is, let alone where I fit into society. I suppose that it has shifted throughout the years. I think I kept waiting for the big break, that moment of striking success, the grande lottery win. I only played the lottery once. And I dropped the card into a puddle on my way out of the convenience store door. No worries though, I managed to scratch the silver gunk off, but was not a winner at this time.
My point is that you have to play, to win. But if you don't know where to buy the ticket to begin with, then you are even further from your goal. I went to college, I studied hard, I followed the rules and did what they all asked of me. But I emerged from my youth at age 21 with, aside from childcare experience, not a saleable skill in my bag. I floundered around for years, working at various parks and monuments, filled in the gaps with odd jobs baking, working a deli counter, walking dogs, always falling back on childcare as a positive easy way to make money. It worked for a while, but I was ever searching for something to be good at.
I didn't do anything for more than 5 minutes- how could I possibly be an expert on anything? But still, I ached terribly for a career. For something that was my calling, for direction. For anything or anyone to tell me which way to go. I wanted what others had. I had friends who had known from the moment college started in which hospital they would be doing their residency. My brother knew since he was five that he wanted to be a pilot. But I couldn't find a single marker pointing me on my path to success. My biggest aspiration was saving the planet- hardly a job I imagined getting paid well for.
The calling never vocalized in a way I could understand, but I did hear another voice. Each time I headed off at the crack of dawn towards work I did not relish, I had this crazy idea in the back of my mind. I told myself I was doing this job because I was doing research for a book. Each colorful character that I worked with, each menial task I performed, each tour given to a gaggle of rowdy kids, was a worthwhile experience to be detailed for my book. Mind you, I was not actually writing a book, but I used that idea to allow me to step back from my judgement of the work itself and give myself a new approach to what I was doing each day.
If I look back on my twenties I am sure that in the moment I could not have explained what my area of expertise was. Now I see that those years did indeed make me an expert in something, in movement. I was an expert at exploration. I was trying different things, experimenting with jobs, co-workers, bosses, learning what worked, and what did not, for me out in the real world.
Eventually, I ended up in the glorious work of retail. I had entertaining co-workers to spend my days with, got a kick out of the customers, and was ever so slowly moving my way up the managerial ladder towards greatness. I settled in to the job, still keeping the idea that I was researching for a book, and over a few years, began to consider the work a possible career. It was all fine and dandy, but it was hardly the dream job I felt I deserved. Soon enough, I was pregnant. I could not however, imagine the prospect of leaving that new baby with a sitter so I could go back to working retail. I easily quit the old job, and began the new.
Five years later, here I am.
Entering into this writing world, I begin to wonder what is it that I now know that I could possibly write about? Do I have an area of expertise? And more importantly, can I accept at where I am and move forward at the same time?
What I knew in my 20's was how to explore the world. But I struggled to see the reality or the value that was present in each bin of blueberry muffins that I baked. What I am learning today is how to be a mother, a stepmother, and a partner, and accepting the work of re-creating a life for myself while raising children. I have begun to see that writing what you know doesn't actually mean writing about what you do. I think it means writing about whatever it is that makes your knickers kick up in joy.
I have no delusions of winning any jackpots these days. I think life is much more complicated than that. I am now playing to win. Somewhere in between overnight success and dropping my ticket in a puddle is a place where my own knowledge and experience mix and will guide me down the path that I have so long been searching for. And if I pay attention, in amongst the challenges of family life, I might just allow myself know exactly which direction to take.