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  • Writer's pictureCari Griffo

Create What You Don't Know: Let Go of The Ropes

Yes, the adage “Write what you know,” has not been challenged enough. Perhaps, you have not challenged yourself enough; the gallery expects the same work, your poetry always contains you, or all your songs are your heartbreaks.

Think of what you do know as your past. By creating from what you don’t know, you expand into your future self. When you become comfortable with the unknown you make room for imagination.

When we are attached to our own experiences, we limit exploration and wonder. If we can’t see past ourselves, our interests in things outside of ourselves is diminished. It’s the creator’s interest and curiosity which fuels desire, which channels empathy and longing, and gives rise to our unique engagement in attempting to understand the unknown.

Perhaps, you don’t trust your imagination. The fear of imagination disappearing, in mid-stroke, prevents us from detaching from our work. Do you truly trust you can create outside of your own experiences?

“The goal isn’t to represent an experience but instead to create a piece of art that is itself an experience,” Bret Anthony Johnston explains in his article, “Don’t Write What You Know.” In order to create, try giving up your belief that creation resides in what you have seen or known, consciously or subconsciously.

No matter how magical you believe your story is, unless you snip the strings of what you think you know, of what you think prevents you from falling, you cannot fly on the carpet. Have you ever truly let go? It is time to trust your suspension in mid-air.

I think of all I’ve been dependent on in my own writing. All the me in my poetry. The time I first went up in a hot-air balloon, we reached four hundred feet above the ground, tethered with ropes. A great way to see the view of Chicago, but any fear I had was secured by tugs from the attachment posts. The tug toward the known.

The second time I went up in a hot-air balloon there were no ropes. We reached four thousand feet in the air…and I wanted to get off the entire climb, I had wanted off at forty feet in the air. I felt powerless in a teeny tiny basket standing in what felt like a false bottom. As if trying to steady myself during the trembling of an earthquake, without the planet floor to rely on.

My poetry was the green grass below and I could not look. I forced myself to feel the breeze, to look straight ahead, to embrace the suspension. You may think the intention of flying in a hot-air balloon is about the views, yet it’s about trust, it’s about who you allow yourself to be when there’s no landing pad in site.

“…stories fueled by intentions never reach their boiling point. And writing what you know is knotted up with intention, and intention in fiction is related to control, to rigidity, and more often than not, a little solipsism,” Johnston suggests releasing the intention of yourself from your work to truly create.

When you move away from explaining your own experiences in writing or interpreting your own life through a visual art, you allow discovery in. Discovery delivers an infinite amount of creative wealth. BORING WORK results from the limitations in explaining or interpreting.

When I took a reprieve from writing poetry, I was tired from placing too much of me inside my work, tired of myself. Creating fictional characters became a great escape as I desperately worked to know them through their own identities. The very attempt to translate the life of another, or the life of a thing, requires compassion. The desire to understand something outside of yourself is compassion.

The more you can feel compassion the more you can create with imagination.

If you are tired of yourself in your work, detach from the ropes. See what you can create while fully suspended in midair, into the unknown of your future self.

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May 03, 2021

Go Gary, snip the strings!!


Apr 30, 2021

Love this essay!

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