What Do They Know

A long time ago I received advice about writing. “Be Specific” and “The Power of Detail” were two of the chapter titles in Natalie Goldberg’s book Writing Down the Bones. These were two of the many bits of advice given in the book. It seems to be very popular. They just released a deck of cards to go along with the book.

My only problem with those bits of advice were the examples she gave with them. “I am in Costa’s Chocolate Shop in Owatonna, Minnesota.” The what, where? The name and the place are meaningless to most people. This was made worse when she referred to a newsstand/coffee shop in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I was living in Albuquergue at the time, the late 1980’s. I could buzz up the road and see the place for myself. I did and it was unlike anything I had imaged. As a result, I put the book on the shelf and did not use it.

Too bad. There is a lot of good bits of advice in there.

On a better side of my experience with the book is that I am conscious of what I put in to whatever I write. Which leads to my questions about Pho.

Results, people from the midwest have no experience with it. People west of the Sierras or the Cascades have heard of it. And perhaps tasted it. There is one respondent, “america eats the world” indicated he knows of Pho from time in Vietnam. He could be anywhere. Having said that, those things, I know what I have heard is a way too small a sample of people to know anything. How do I include Pho in something I write and expect it to be relevant to people?

This is a problem with being specific in writing. Ms. Goldberg talked about learning the names of plants. But the readers, most of whom grew up in cities, what do they know of plants?

I am puzzeling today.

— MichaelRpdx :: h3k

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