Henry Petroski said, “Many of the familiar little things that we use every day have typically evolved over a period of time to a state of familiarity. They balance form and function, elegance and economy, success and failure in ways that are not only acceptable, but also admirable.”
This is how I look at familiarity, from a writers stand point. To me, familiarity is one of four parts of a writer’s psyche, along with imagination/creativity, passion and skill. The last three are easy to define in the mind of a writer. The PASSION for putting words to paper lend to the SKILL of the individual writer and opens the IMAGINATION as seen through their eyes.
But it’s FAMILIARITY that makes the writer believable. It’s hard to understand that when one of the greatest writers of our time, Mark Twain, is very famous for saying “Familiarity breeds contempt, and children!” I never really understood that quote. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, rather it breeds comfort in our surroundings, our personal being, and our state of mind.
I will say that familiarity can sometimes lead to complacency, and that can be very dangerous. I’ve seen that happen too many times during my Navy career.; but I’m talking about familiarity as it relates to being a writer.
When you’re writing about a particular topic, it is best that you are familiar with the specific interest. Sure, many authors have read up or interviewed people about a particular story, and then put it down on paper. That’s being done at countless universities on a daily basis.
What I’m talking about is combining that familiarity with pure inspiration and imagination. When you find yourself intrenched in a particular topic of interest, it opens the mind to an avalanche of possibilities. That familiarity feeds your imagination and lets it run through a myriad of possibilities.
Recently, I found myself in a rut as I tried for weeks to work my way through a bad case of writer’s block. I am currently writing the third book in the Forever Avalon series, The Outlander War. It has been difficult to focus on the story and break through. I have the ending all planned out (in my head) but I have to get there through the middle of the story.
Now, here’s where the familiarity comes into play. The characters of my story are based on family and friends. I found it easy to develop characters using the same personalities and quirks I associate with the people I interact with each and every day. My wife and children became the wife and children of the hero of my story. I even used their middle names as the first names of their characters.
While this helps me develop my characters relatively easier, it also blocks me when I am having real world issues with them. Let me explain that as best as I can. I lost my job back in November 2015 and it’s been very difficult around my home. Stress and worry about money has hampered my relationship with my wife and kids and led to massive writer’s block. That’s how familiarly hurts a writer.
What’s helped me break through it is the love and support of my family as we work through the problems. As we’ve talked about things, it has improved my relationship with my family and thus, helped me push through my writer’s block.
James Hillman said, “Anytime you’re gonna grow, you’re gonna lose something. You’re losing what you’re hanging onto to keep safe. You’re losing habits that you’re comfortable with, you’re losing familiarity.”
As we grow as writers, we have to hang onto that familiarity within ourselves to maintain the connection with our stories, our characters, and our imagination. If we lose that, we lose that spark inside us to build a new world in the pages of a story.