“Write What You Know” with Rachel Panico
The title is in quotation marks because this is what we say to young people who are interested in writing. Here’s the problem: as a young person, my first thought is, “But I don’t know anything yet. I don’t have as much life experience as you.” We feel we don’t have anything valuable to contribute even though we’re just overthinking it.
When I was hired to be the Circulation Assistant for The New Quarterly through a practicum placement for my Graduate degree, I was one of the rare few who came with previous knowledge and experience of the publishing world. (Shoutout to Wilfrid Laurier University Student Publications!) During my two years working with WLUSP, I had already decided:
This is what I love.
Not just reading and writing but encouraging others to read and write. There is so much more talent out there than we realize and it is all because we mistakenly tell people the above phrase.
Working with TNQ, I have learned the key differences between what a student publication looks like and what a national publication looks like. There are so many things that TNQ does that immediately made me think “Why didn’t we think of this?” (Like these blogs). Even working remotely, I am still finding myself engaged in this community.
My current supervisors, Emily Bednarz and Pamela Mulloy are great at finding that “zoom balance”. Remote training is extremely difficult without being able to get hands-on experience in the office and they know when a simple list of instructions will be clear enough and when a certain task will require a visual demonstration through screen share. Zoom “check-ins” are also used to ensure I am adapting well or ask me how I’m feeling about what I’m doing, if I feel I need extra guidance or if there are specific areas I’m interested in exploring more in-depth.
“When you feel that rush of inspiration, do not sit on the idea and wait for it to expand. This is a mistake I make all the time, and then I forget what I wanted to write about altogether. Write it down as it comes to you. Once you are in the zone, it will expand on itself.”
Sometimes Zoom is just used to replace the usual office chitchat and provide some social interaction (which is much needed considering most of us will be socially inept by the time this is over, or we will have picked up the habit of talking to ourselves).
Learning so much about publishing, in general, has extended to learning about my passions and how this experience has affected my own perspective on writing.
It took me years to figure out that the fragmented memories in the back of my mind are there for a reason. They are not tossed in the brain’s personal trash bin because they mean something to me. There is a subconscious philosophical reason why I remember this story from my past. What we should be telling young writers is “write what you remember.”
This is more of a memoir-style writing prompt, but I did not even know memoirs could be so interesting until Grad school, until reading all these beautiful creative nonfiction submissions we receive. This is also therapeutic when it comes to painful memories, like journal-writing. I am training my brain to pay attention to the little details I see and how they make me feel, which is important for character development (of myself and fictional characters).
The time your grandfather died. Write that down. Your first heartbreak. Write that down. Your last experience with discrimination. Write that down. This is how we practice.
When you feel that rush of inspiration, do not sit on the idea and wait for it to expand. This is a mistake I make all the time, and then I forget what I wanted to write about altogether. Write it down as it comes to you. Once you are in the zone, it will expand on itself.
What you “know” right now is what you remember,
no matter how fragmentary those memories are.
Rachel Panico is a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University with a master’s degree in English Literature. She completed her undergraduate degree at WLU as a double major in English Literature and Medievalism Studies. She previously worked with Blueprint and is the outgoing Circulation Assistant for TNQ. She is passionate about reading and writing and aspires to be an emerging young writer.