Don’t write what you know about

On the difference between fantasy and imagination and what young children should read (and even write):

Creative Imagination is thus the foe and antidote to fantasy -a truth recognised by psychologists in practice, but frequently obscured in their writings by a muddled use of the two terms as though they were interchangeable. Evidence of a habit of fantasy in a child is no proof of creative impulse: on the contrary. The child who relates his fantasied adventures as though they were fact is about as far removed from creativeness as he can possibly be; these dreamy little liars grow up (if into nothing worse) into the feeble little half-baked poets who are the irritation and despair of the true makers. The child who is creative tells himself stories, as they do, but objectively; these usually centre about some hero of tale or history, and are never confused in his mind with the ordinary day-dreams in which he sees himself riding rough-shod over the grown-ups or rescuing beloved prefects from burning buildings. Even if he does dramatise himself, and make “the bard the hero of the story”, this is pure dramatisation, and can be carried on parallel with his consciousness of real life, without ever at any point meeting it.

It is not that the one kind of fancy develops into the other; they are completely and consciously independent. Accordingly, the first literary efforts of the genuinely creative commonly deal, in a highly imitative manner, with subjects of which the infant author knows absolutely nothing, such as piracy, submarines, snake-infested swamps, or the love-affairs of romantic noblemen. The well – meant exhortations of parents and teachers to “write about something you really know about” should be (and will be) firmly ignored by the young creator as yet another instance of the hopeless stupidity of the adult mind. Later in life, and with increased practice in creation, the drive outward becomes so strong that the writer’s whole personal experience can be seen by him objectively as the material for his work.

-Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, Ch.9

The topic of children’s reading material was discussed over at Internet Monk a few days ago. I think this could shed some light on that discussion. This is why young adult literature about drug addiction sucks. It’s better to read about pirates.