My Dear Hubby runs a farm implement dealership. He started at the bottom and moved his way up. As a teen he mowed the lot. After college he took care of the lawn and garden division. Over the years, he worked in parts, sales and service before stepping into the big office.
He earned his position through experience and is a great manager because of it. He knows the business and cares about it deeply. His lot always looks fabulous, his showroom floor organized and tidy, his employees perfectly matched for their positions.
During our 17 year marriage, I’ve watched other managers fail miserably at running a dealership. The number one reason is lack of experience as a well-rounded employee. They are businessmen who don’t get or care about a farmer’s timeline. They have no passion for the ag industry, but signed on for the office job. In short, they are not passionate enough to learn the nuances involved in running a dealership.
A business degree is a bit like research in the writing world. It gives a basis of understanding. It teaches you the facts. And it leaves you ill prepared to tackle a dealership on your own. Some things just need to be experienced to be learned.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen discussion in the cybersphere regarding experience versus research. In the writing world, it is often said, “Write what you know.” The flipside of that argument is, “Write what you are passionate about.”
Just Jemi asked a valid question on her blog the other day: Are fearful people better horror writers because they KNOW fear?
Regarding tragic stories: Can we effectively portray a character and situation if we have not lived through the tragedy ourselves?
What about disabilities or prejudice or chronic illnesses? Can writers write authentically without experiencing these things first hand?
I’ve thought long and hard over these questions and have concluded that this is not really a black and white issue. It is not a matter of running a dealership with a business degree and no experience/passion or running it with all experience and no formal education.
It is not knowledge versus passion.
Sometimes research/knowledge is sufficient–if it goes beyond google and wiki. Want to know what it’s like to be blind? Strap on a blindfold the second you wake up and don’t take it off until you’re in bed for the night. This can give you the teeny, tiniest taste of being visually impaired.
Fear? No amount of research, in my mind, can allow a writer to truthfully write about fear. “Her heart raced.” Ugh. Of course it did. The physical aspect can be researched until the second coming of Christ. But until someone has smelled their own sour sweat, felt that trickle of urine as it ran down their legs or tried to reason through the irrational to no avail, a writer will never accurately portray fear on paper. They will lose the voice of authenticity and come off sounding crass and condescending.
Other topics are a matter of degree. Does a writer have to be raped to understand the feelings of fear, guilt, shame and hatred that follow a sexual assault? I don’t think so. Being the victim of inappropriate touch is enough to elicit those same feelings. Careful research can do the rest.
And sometimes, the closer a writer is to the topic, the more poorly they write about it. They have no distance and can’t separate themselves from their writing. Their stories become agendas. Conversely, a lack of passion for a topic comes off like a bad blind date. Everyone is uncomfortable and can’t wait to bail.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is that balance is the key and every topic requires a different approach. The best writing is a combination of research, experience and passion. Compassion and empathy can go a long way if writers care about their topics. When paired with solid research, the story thrives.
A business degree doth not a manager make. Rather, it enhances the experiences employees bring to the dealership. In writing, research enhances the knowledge, passion and experience a writer brings to the project. Without both, we will fail to grasp the nuances that can make or break our bottom line.
The Word from the Woods: Write what you know AND are passionate about. Use research to strenghthen your experiences, not to bypass them altogether.
Okay, I’ve blathered on about my opion. What’s yours?