Many guides to writing will offer this writer’s truism: “Write what you know.” Usually, I completely disagree. The power of a writer’s imagination enables them to write good fiction based on experiences they have not lived and to give life on the page to people they have never met.
Some great writers rarely left their houses and still succeeded in painting complex pictures of worlds that were much bigger than their own. But column writing seeks to paint an entirely different picture.
If I never left my house, this column would consistently be about all the different rooms of my house. Next Thursday: “I Love My Kitchen Cos There’s Food In There.”
As a columnist, I am limited by the boundaries of my own small existence. I cannot write about anyone else’s experiences, or from any perspective other than my own. This means that there are many, many things that I am just not qualified to write about.
I won’t ever write about life as a very tall person (I wonder what it’s like up there?), or as a member of a fraternity, or as a puppy, because I am none of those things. And even within the confines of my own experience, there are many things that I could rant for days about that are not even remotely interesting to anyone else, except perhaps my mother, though even she sometimes falls asleep while I’m talking to her.
When you think about it, writing a column is actually a very arrogant thing to do in the first place — the author is making the assumption that something that has happened in their life is relatable to something that’s happened in yours (the reader’s). A fellow columnist gave me a great piece of advice this year when she told me that a good column should be both personal and universal. I am humbled and a little daunted by how difficult that is to achieve.
It is this intensely personal quality of column writing that means it is sometimes criticised for being trivial, or trite. But real human experience is filled with trivialities. Our lives can seem intensely meaningful one moment and totally inconsequential the next. On a large scale, everything we do in our lives is rendered insignificant in the context of the billions of other people also living on this planet.
Ergo, I will write about the small things, our “champagne problems.” Defined by Urban Dictionary as “trivial, middle-class grievances” or “first-world problems,” champagne problems are the everyday annoyances and curiosities of our young, educated and privileged lives. Our problems are inconsequential by virtually all measures of comparison. But I’m going to take these champagne problems very seriously. I mean, why is the line in Walgreen’s always so long when they have so many cash desks? I wish our generation wasn’t so boring so I didn’t have to buy vintage clothing and listen to music from the 60s. My dorm room is just too small — I can’t fit all my shoes.
It’s problems like these that make it hard to get out of bed some days. Or maybe it’s the fact that my bed is TOO comfy. Life is just so unfair. Time to snooze the alarm.
Good literature, like a good column, resonates. Many of my best reading experiences have been born out of the fact that something an author says through their character strikes a chord with something in my life.
I take pleasure in the knowledge that someone else has felt the same way as me. That’s why people so often write about love — it is a human experience that is both highly personal and completely universal. But let’s be clear on one thing. Do not think for a second that I am suggesting that this column is good literature. It’s great literature, naturally. I am setting out to write great literature about problems of earth-shattering and even cosmic significance.
You see, if you are to take any real and earnest message away from this column, let it be this: I am a very serious and important person, and I insist that I am taken as such.
I dress only in black and shades of grey. I have read many ancient texts and huge tomes that your puny arms could probably not even lift, dear reader. Each word I write will be heavily weighted with deep meaning. My words will be imbued with the burden of wisdom that is mine to bear as a 21-year-old university student of English and Theater — the most solemn and erudite double major of them all.
I must blindly hope that in laying a little piece of my own life bare every week, my courage does not go unsung and the precious knowledge I share is passed down to future generations.
Besides, my laptop’s about to die. Where’s my charger? UPSTAIRS? You know, sometimes I wonder why I even bother.