Write what you know is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.
— Kazuo Ishiguro, Literary Hub
In the literary world, the common consensus is this: honesty is overrated.
We’ve moved past confessionalism, outgrown recklessness — know better than to bleed out on the page. And, most importantly, we’ve swallowed whole the advice any well-intentioned mentor has fed us at some point or another and never, ever write what we know.
I could begin with the publishers, the competitions. Or how nuance never exists in the extremes. I could begin by telling you that things like love, sorrow, joy — these common experiences are just that: common.
But instead, I’ll begin by saying why not?
Sometimes, I’ll read a poem so thick in metaphor that I can’t help, but call the technique unproductive. Sometimes, the truth is best served plain like in Czesław Miłosz’s Gift [see below].
Miłosz’s frank sincerity is so refreshing. He writes the way one would write a diary entry. He doesn’t perform — there are no acrobatics, the poem doesn’t set itself on fire.
Miłosz is honest — his poem doesn’t care for the reader’s gaze.
Who’s to say we should write for others and not ourselves. In our writing, perhaps we should prioritize the self, our own emotions.
Or, as Carly Rae Jepsen would put it: cut to the feeling.