Write what you know.
You hear the phrase all the time in writing workshops, creative writing handbooks, and by interested strangers. Or at least I do. And most of what I write is what I know. In fact, stepping outside of that comfort zone: mid-twenties, screenwriters, Los Angeles really kind of scares me. I want my work to be honest. I want it to bleed authenticity—and I don’t know how good I would be writing from the perspective of a Toronto bike messenger or a Chilean donut baker. Do they even have donuts in Chile? I really don’t know.
Yet I admire those writers and directors who are able to take on completely strange subject matter. T.C Boyle never stayed at John Kellogg’s Battle Creek retreat before writing The Road to Wellsville. Lars von Trier never set foot in the U.S. yet directed Dogville (set in a small town in Colorado).
That said, writers, generally journalists, who do venture outside their comfort zone get my greatest respect. VBS.tv, a division of Vice magazine, is a favorite. Their far-flung correspondents form an odd counterpoint to the hipsteriffic publication the brand is known for. Since the website’s creation in 2007, they have sent correspondents to Libya, North Korea, Pakistan, and other world hot-spots.
Sure, the commentary never feels like CNN—“Moammar Kaddafi is a total nutbar” Shane Smith reports during a 2010 Libyan youth conference—but I really like that. There is no political slant, either. Or if there is, it feels idiosyncratic—neither right nor left, and certainly not middle of the road. I learned a great deal during a twenty-minute report on the Taliban in Pakistan (correspondent Suroosh Alvi: “there’s a pretty heavy vibe here”) than I could reading the AP. It’s travel journalism, but the kind that takes you to places you would never in your life visit. And I like that. I appreciate their confidence, their ability to see the world—all of it. I just wish some of that would rub off on me.