So I was asked to write a few articles for a local university magazine that I wrote for this summer. I started doing some preliminary brainstorming and went to a good a friend of mine who is a student in the field.
Unfortunately, I phrased my terminology rather wrongly and said friend quickly and firmly put me in my place. He then went on to tell me that people shouldn’t write about something they aren’t immersed in…and that the whole magazine’s column was stupid.
Well, he had a point.
Like him, I am very, very wary of disseminating false info. I also have no interest in pretending to know something more than what I do…and quite dislike pompous jackasses who engage in said behavior. And an awful lot of people claim to know far more than they do and like to hear themselves talk about it. All three college campuses I’ve attended were full of students who thought they had gotten a handle on how the world works, when really the smartest people I’ve ever met continually and truly acknowledged that the more they knew, the more they realized that they didn’t know.
I hope I’m not one of the former. Which is why I’ve never claimed to be an expert in any field (even though I joke about my taste in indie music and foreign films).
That said, I do think it’s possible to write about something without being an expert in the field, if one does it carefully and after research. It’s all too easy to make a mistake, however, I know–one news article I once wrote incorrectly said a student was going to be doing genetic research and nothing could be further from the truth. She was quite irate…so while I’m pretty sure it was another editor who put that bit of info into the piece, I know it’s quite easy to do.
So should we not even try?
I argue just the opposite. One of the most inspiring pieces I ever read was M. L’Engle ruminating on how her plebian interest in physics and later, molecular biology, impacted the physical and spiritual settings of her Wrinkle in Time series. She said she felt totally ridiculous writing them at the time, but wrote out of an innocent, intrigued love of the subject.
And I think that’s what’s key. A humility that grapples with themes and subjects as best as it can and doesn’t pretend to know more than it does.
So, yes, I’m going to try and write something about the interesting dynamics of sound directionality, even though I’m way out of my league. Hopefully I’ll learn something and be able to communicate that little bit in such a way that it challenges people to talk to the real experts!
…and maybe someday I’ll be half as smart as L’Engle.
What do you think? Was my friend right?