On Writing What You Know

I wonder if you, like me, were given this precious golden nugget of advice at school: Write what you know.

A faultless piece of wisdom that successful writers such as Stephen King, JK Rowling, and William Shakespeare no doubt kept close to their hearts as they started out on their particular roads to wild acclaim.

The thing is, if I was to write about what I do every day, I know what I would choose. Sure, I watch TV a lot. I could write searing, insightful essays on American Pickers or Good Bones. Sure, I work most days. I could tell you which language rules I’d get rid of (no one needs to ever use “whom” anymore, for instance) and add my quiet, polite, English voice to the call for all you people to use the serial (“Oxford”) comma. Dammit. (Sorry.)

And sure, I’m living the life of an immigrant to this weird and wonderful country every day, so I could write about the struggles of a white, middle-class English-speaker striving to make it in the foreign world of Texas. Tears would flow.

But, let’s be honest with ourselves. I have three…sorry, two… dogs. The thing I am guaranteed to do every damn day? I pick up poop.

Morning, noon, and night, I pick up poop. Mostly outside. Mostly. And you know what? I’ve been picking up poop for over 5 years now and I’m really good at it. I am, let’s not be modest, an Olympic-level poop-picker. In all my time as a poop-picker, I have only trodden in the stuff three times. And only walked it through the house once. (Pro-tip: Walk the back yard in old shoes that have lost their tread; so much easier to clean.)

I am ready for my medal now. I promise to wash my hands for the ceremony.

And as I scour the yard (and, occasionally, the hallway) for one of our little darlings’ biological landmines, I wonder how I can monetize this skill. Is there, possibly, a book in this? Would other people be interested in the lessons I’ve learned, the stories I have to tell, the wisdom I have developed in this simple, smelly, socially responsible skill?

You might think not; but you might simply not know enough dog owners. Because, in my experience, there are two kinds of people obsessed with poop. Well, three. But I’m focusing on two: new parents and dog owners. Get two of either class of people talking, and poop will soon rise to the surface. Of the conversation. Obviously.

So, my readership would be parents and dog-owners. Especially the dog-owners who regard themselves as parents. They’ll buy anything with a face of a puppy on the front of it. Imagine the cover of my inevitable bestseller: A puppy, with floppy ears and manga eyes, staring right out into the bookstore or off the computer screen. But there’s a twist: the puppy is wearing a diaper/nappy. Because this is a book about dog poop. And we can’t show a picture of dog poop. So we’ll suggest it. Subtly and adorably.

But, aside from the basic need to make van-loads of money, why write such a book? I have reasons.

It is through art such as this that we are provided an opportunity to see the world through the eyes of another, even if that other is, say, the humble poop-fly. That is its official scientific name, I am fairly sure.

So, consider with me the plight of the poop-fly. On any given day, it could find itself renditioned into an air-tight plastic bag along with the meal it was having, to spend the rest of its days trapped and suffocating, surrounded but food but running out of oxygen. To paraphrase the Great & Ancient Philosophers, that’s gotta suck, right?

But then, by applying a little empathy – looking at the world as if you are a poop-fly – things look a little different. Maybe your situation is now a little more like, Free bacon-cheeseburgers until the air runs out! And if I had to choose a way to go, I would think carefully about that one.

See: Life makes you think, if you just let it in.

You want to give me your money right now, don’t you?

Well, let me go even further. I’m going to write a blog post summarizing the book, just for you.

In fact, here we are. This suddenly got a little meta. How exciting!

Here, then, are the top ten things I’ve learned as a daily picker-up-of-poop. Each one of these little poop nuggets of wisdom can easily be expanded to a 2000-word chapter.

  • Being responsible for your own mess sometimes means being responsible for other people’s(/dogs’) messes.
  • Lessons can be learned from just about anything.
  • Even the most unpleasant tasks can be worthwhile if you understand why they’re important.
  • It’s never too late to start tidying up the mess you’ve let build up.
  • Being part of the circle of life is not always clean and nice.
  • Blog posts can come from just about anything.
  • Don’t look too far ahead. Sometimes you miss something important right in front of you.

Yes, there are only seven lessons. And at least a couple of them seem like they’re the same lesson. I’m working on it. I’m a busy man with a lot of back yard to cover.

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