Write What You Don’t Know

Everyone’s heard the line, “Write about what you know.”  If I only wrote about what I know, I’d have run dry years ago.  It’s learning a subject that I’ve stumbled on and become fascinated with, and discovering how it fits with a story idea in my head that keeps me at it.  So my obsession with Diana’s chickens is surely leading somewhere.  Maybe I shouldn’t be researching a whole novel ahead of myself, but I’ve learned to gather material when it’s front and center, to capture the moment and the attendant details, including the feelings, the surprises.  Otherwise, it gets lost like a dream from which I awaken thinking it so bright I’ll easily remember the specifics only to find the pictures faded, vague and elusive by noon.  If I record material when it’s fresh, I’ll have it to use when I’m ready.

My husband and I spent an evening at Nik and Diana’s last weekend.   Diana now lets “the girls” out of their run to peck around the back yard for twenty or thirty minutes at a time.  So far, they’ve stuck close to her, perhaps because she’s so tamed them with her patient presence, sitting on a low stool in the run with them during the spring and early summer.  When she lets them out, Diana feeds them treats from her hand: green grapes, oats, and seeds.  (And she brings out leftovers I’d never have thought to feed chickens.  Here’s one of the surprises:  they love yogurt!)  Diana’s now collecting up to three eggs a day, generally one or two blue ones from the Americaunas (Meg and Beth) and one or two from the Rhode Island Red (Jo) and New Amy, a white Rock Cross.  (See previous chicken posts, which start on May 13, 2011, for how Old Amy became known as Amos when she started crowing and had to make a journey to a rural farm.)  The eggs are small, because the girls are still maturing, but quite perfect and beautiful.  Especially the blue ones, which look as if the Americaunas were custom-bred to lovingly produce for Easter all year.

The egg laying has given Diana another astonishment:  the chickens, when they’re laying, seem to be taken quite off guard.  They’re either horrified by the process or extremely elated.  Diana discovered this when during the recent cool spell she was able to open the windows of her house and heard what sounded like a gaggle of geese honking.  An invasion of donkeys braying?  At any rate, it was a totally unidentifiable sound and she ran downstairs and outside, convinced that a predator must be after her hens.  Turned out, there was no danger;  there were Amy and Jo, crouched in the laying boxes.  Amy turned to glare at Diana as if to say, “Hey, get the hell out of here.  How about some privacy?  You ever done this?”  Diana, impressed with the intensity of the evil eye aimed at her, didn’t think it prudent right then to explain that she is the mother of two and tactfully withdrew.

Diana gave us four of their eggs and they are wonderful, light-years fresher than super-market eggs.  A generous soul who puts up with these posts in good humor, I think she’d have done this even if we hadn’t brought them tomatoes from our garden. 

 And here’s something new:  three of the hens love be petted.  To put it bluntly, the three more than love it.  They squat down to encourage a better massage, ruffle their wings and, chests to ground, stick their business ends way up in the air.  Nik, Diana’s husband, seems particularly proficient at eliciting this response.  It actually appears that the hens think he’s a rooster.  Nik takes this as an affirmation of his masculinity.  I’m thinking that this particular hen-arousing ability is a talent I should not analyze further in print in order to avoid being banned from the research site.  And there’s too much more to learn. 

4 Responses to Write What You Don’t Know

  1. I always have thought it amusing that eggs in the supermarket say “vegetarian fed” hens. To which I say what free range hens won’t eat worms…or whatever else is in their yard? They are about the best garbage consumers besides pigs that I ever witnessed. But Nick and Diana sound to me like they are becoming sort of “eggcentric” with these charges! So don’t they all feel guilty about taking these eggs from the “girls”?

    • I doubt there’s any guilt involved, but I’ll ask. About becoming “eggcentric?” Love is love and fun is fun wherever we find it, I think. I’m hardly in a place to comment on that, since people think I’m crazy about certain chocolate Labs.

  2. Great advice for writing, and to continue learning. I, too, find that “striking while the iron is hot”, is the best way to capture the immediacy of our feelings. The really bad part is when I dream something and have to “capture” it at 3 in the morning. But, if you’ve all of a sudden developed an interest in a topic, your research will be that much more fresh, and I think your writing reflects that as well, don’t you?

  3. (Let’s see if I have any better luck tonight than when I tried posting a couple of weeks ago.) Personally, I think we don’t know WHAT we know UNTIL we start writing. I think the physical act of putting words down in a manuscript becomes meditative, permitting us to tap into a river of knowledge which otherwise would be beyond our reach. We’re always surprising ourselves, are we not, when we find ourselves creating characters we weren’t planning on being there, having them say and do things we hadn’t anticipated?

    Finally — you may not remember many years ago when you were kind enough to read my unpublished Arabian Nights novel, but I enjoyed putting in a throway bit of advice from a veteran teller of tales to his young novice, encouraging him to include in his stories such wonders as caliphs and princesses and wizards and monsters and genies and flying carpets, etc,, etc. “My son, if you wish to be a good teller of tales, you should always tell about what you know.”

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