When I was 18 and just starting college in Illinois, I took a poetry class from a famous poet. I don’t recall his name just now, but he was impressive. For some reason that I didn’t really understand (and still don’t), poetry unlike other writing is supposed to be “real” — you’re not supposed to write about things that you haven’t experienced. At least that was the unspoken assumption then. But I hadn’t experienced anything.
A few months in we were to write about a place yada yada. Nothing inspired my creativity, so I decided to write about a fictional beach in Rhode Island. I had returned there, expecting something, but ended up feeling nothing, etc. People loved it, the professor thought it was good, too. Then another student pointed out there was a small flaw: I had screwed up the color of the water. She had actually been to Rhode Island beaches. Oh. At that point I said I had made it all up.
The students were shocked, and then applauded. The professor congratulated me and gave me an A. I don’t think it was an A-worthy poem. He just liked that I had the balls to fictionalize poetry, though I didn’t really think this was such a BFD.
Now that I’m back to writing “real fiction” as opposed to erotica (for the time being), I sometimes think to incorporate a few of my real experiences, in a highly disguised and fictionalized way, natch. But that writing turns out to be some of my worst almost without fail. When I make shit up out of whole cloth, it’s generally much better, especially if I know absolutely nothing of what I’m talking about.
And now there’s Google to look things up like the color of the ocean off Rhode Island to get the nitpickers off my back. 🙂