Monday, June 16, 2014

Considerate Craft: Write What You Nose

A couple weeks ago I went to the dermatologist for my tri-monthly check-up. It’s been my schedule since I had basal cell removed from my nose last November. Most of the time when I go to the office, I get the PA, but this time I got the actual doctor. After the usual check, she asked, in the clipped busy manner of Manhattan doctors, if I had any questions.

I was a little surprised, because there was a bump on my nose (the other side than November’s surgery) that, while smaller, was just like the last bump that turned out to be basal cell. So I pointed it out.

“Has it gotten any bigger?”

“…No—”

“Then that’s fine.”

“But it was bleeding a couple days ago.”

“Bleeding? Oh, that was probably from usual trauma.”

“…But it’s just like the last one.”

“Okay, we’ll test it, but it’s probably nothing.”

Today I’m going in for surgery to remove basal cell, so you can guess who was right.

The lesson here, aside from that I might want a new dermatologist, is that just because someone is an authority on something doesn’t mean they know everything about it. Because I know my body and had been through the experience of having basal cell on my nose before, I knew immediately what this was. The person who went to years of medical school and specialized in skin and has practiced for years was ready to ignore it. Probably would’ve been a different story if it had been on her face.

Why am I sharing this? Well, because it ties into the old idiom, “Write what you know.”

Since I represent sci-fi/fantasy, obviously I don’t believe adhering to that advice in the strictest sense. However, whenever someone writes outside of what they know, when they write anything that they haven’t lived and breathed, they will get something wrong at some point. It doesn’t matter if they’ve researched deeply and have five PhDs in the subject, if they haven’t lived it, if it isn’t vital for them, they will misstep. And those who think that five PhDs will keep them from misstepping would do well to watch their hubris.

This is not a call for everyone to give up on fiction and write memoir from hereon out. It’s just a reminder to take care. To listen to those who question your writing when you step outside your own life. To apologize and change course, if you can.

Because it’s all too easy to say everything is fine when it’s not your face at risk.

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