I am not a nature lover. To me, one field with something growing in it looks very much like any other field with something growing in it, whether that’s cabbages, corn, or crabapples. I am well aware that my life is dependent on things growing in fields, but that doesn’t make them any more interesting. My philosophy is that if the Great Outdoors were truly so great, humanity would not have spent its entire existence trying to perfect the Great Indoors.
I am not good with tools. I can handle a screwdriver reasonably well, and Red Green has nothing on me in using the Handyman’s Secret Weapon: duct tape. But most other tools look like oddly shaped paperweights to me. And that’s where I prefer to leave them.
Finally, as H.L. Mencken put it so aptly, “I hate sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense.”
Why am I telling you so much about what doesn’t interest me?
It’s not for the sheer joy of self-revelation; it’s to make a point. Here are three huge handicaps for my writing (setting aside any inconvenience in my daily life). Here are three enormous gaps in my knowledge, gaps that I have done my utmost to perpetuate.
How can I accurately set a pastoral scene if I have so little sense about what flowers and such grow and bloom together? (And look at that phrasing: “flowers and such.”) Can I put hollyhock and hibiscus in the same meadow? How can I detail the way in which a character builds a tree house when I’m clueless about how it might be done? Does my character us a level or a T-square or a plumb bob? A band saw or a handsaw? And I would never attempt to write a story about an athlete; I’d only embarrass myself.
The last universal genius, Gottfried Leibniz, died in 1716. No one can know everything about everything anymore. Indeed, it’s perhaps impossible now to know even one thing about everything. But simple ignorance, as dangerous as that can be, is a lesser trap than willful stupidity. Sure you can, and should, do research, and fiction writers are expected merely to write plausibly, not to be experts. But sharp readers will know when you’re cribbing from Wikipedia or when you looked that up in your Funk & Wagnalls. There goes your credibility in that story.
Garrison Keillor tells us, “Nothing human is beneath a writer’s attention.” So ask yourself: What do I consider beneath my attention? How am I purposefully handicapping my own writing? How am I stunting my own intellectual growth and keeping my characters in kindergarten with me? What stories could I write if only I knew something about that topic?
I’m working to correct my first lack of knowledge; I need to know these things for my day job. The other two … we’ll see. I am, however, aware of what I don’t know, which is important. And I’ll stick close to some of the oldest advice aspiring writers are given: write what you know.