Write What You Know

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I started this blog over 7 years ago with my first post, Tiki 101. When I re-read this first effort, I realize I’ve come a long way with my writing. The best advice I got from two people I asked to critique my blog early on boils down to this: write what you know.

The first person I asked was Tracey Shifflett, a friend and colleague in the energy industry who was the Marketing Communications Director at the American Gas Association. Tracey told me that after she read Tiki 101, she felt like she was reading a textbook. It was informative, but not particularly compelling. Tracey was right! She suggested I put myself into this blog, and not just write about what others had to say. I realized I hadn’t used the word “I” until the last paragraph, where I at least made a recommendation. This needed to change immediately.

And it did. With my second blog post, Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit, I put myself in the narrative. This post told the story of me and my family’s travels to Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and how these trips showed me the importance of Disney in the Tiki space. I traced the history of The Enchanted Tiki Room debut in 1963, through the opening of the Polynesian Village Resort in 1971, and finally Trader Sam’s in 2013. I got to report on all three of these Tiki landmarks firsthand.

The second person I asked about my blog was another friend, Heather Crownover. I was a couple of months into it and finding my voice, and I was about to publish a post about some other personal interactions I’ve had with Tiki. This was going to be a long piece, as I planned to tie in a wide variety of places including Disney Parks, New Orleans, Jamaica, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Heather suggested I break this into a series of blog posts, one dedicated to each place, so I could better focus on my individual experiences with each. She was so right to suggest this! The resulting series was titled Aloha Spirit Ramblings, with an introductory post followed by 6 individual stories from each place. I’m happy that I devoted enough time and space to each place without writing a novel.

This concept of publishing a series of blog posts on a specific topic has served me well over the years since Aloha Spirit Ramblings. I used it to document my trip to The Hukilau in 2014, daily live blogging from our family vacation to the Polynesian Village in 2017, and step-by-step descriptions of my creative process in various projects in 2020 in my other blog, Creating Stuff.

Which brings me to my latest inspiration: Ernest Hemingway. Yes, I know, we all had to read Hemingway in high school, and many of us didn’t care much for him. He was the greatest American novelist of the 20th Century, and he was a larger-than-life character as a person. The myth of Hemingway is not nearly as interesting as the man himself, however.

I have been watching a series of Zoom conversations, hosted by PBS, featuring Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, creators of a new documentary miniseries on Hemingway. This 3-part, 6-hour series debuts on PBS on April 5-7, 2021. I’m really looking forward to watching this! The conversations have been fascinating, exposing me to many sides of Hemingway I never knew.

What made Hemingway such a great writer? Besides stripping down prose to its bare essentials, he wrote about what he knew. The quote in the featured image of this post says it all. Hemingway knew a lot because he lived a lot, and his greatest gift was his ability to observe everything around him and document it meticulously: people, places, and things, especially in nature.

Though I haven’t lived a life anywhere near as exciting and adventurous as Ernest Hemingway, I like to think of myself as a Renaissance man. I have many interests, and I explore them pretty deeply. It is this wealth of knowledge and personal experience that has fed my writing habit. In my blog posts and short stories, I have learned to write what I know. Most recently, this has been about Tiki culture, but I’ve also delved into the subjects of art, music, cocktails, cooking, social justice, to name a few.

In my writing, I’ve tried to regurgitate the knowledge I’ve obtained, but more importantly, I’ve infused it with my relationship to that knowledge. Whether it be through my personal interactions with subject matter experts, my visits to places of interest, or my reflection on things I’m passionate about, my stories have become more compelling because I’m in them. I believe this makes me a better writer. More importantly, it makes me happy. Sure, I love to have an audience for my work, but I mostly write for me.

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