I'm the kind of guy who reflexively bucks old-fashioned convention and tries to do things the hard way, partly because I'm stupid and partly because I am afraid of becoming rigid and growing blind to insights and alternatives. But sometimes, I discover the old-fashioned convention is indeed best.

Take poaching eggs for example. I could go buy some super-duper Eggomatic 5000 non-stick poach pan for $30 or I could just plop some eggs right into a swirling pot of boiling water with a spoonful of lemon juice and enjoy a simple, scrumptious breakfast just as people have been doing for centuries before the Eggomatic. Point is, old wisdom is often good wisdom and the tried-and-true methods for good writing shouldn't be ignored simply because you have a burning desire to be avant-garde.

No doubt you've heard the cliche: "Write what you know". You know what? It is a cliche, an overused meme. An empty, stinking husk of four words that stand as a bulwark against modernization.

And it also happens to be true.

Though I usually change the well-worn phrase to something more alliterative: "Don't be a doofus", it is a rule I have always tried to follow ever since I had a buddy in junior high school tell me something I wrote sounded 'lame'. After a little introspection, I came to realize my buddy was right. The piece I had written (which has long since frittered away from my consciousness...probably because it was so God-awful) basically made me sound like a doofus. I tried to write about a subject I had no knowledge or experience of. Consequently, I became a blathering moron in the minds of my readers and even less impressive in the eyes of all the cute girls in class.

So, DON'T BE A DOOFUS! Writing about a feud between two ancient gladiators? Read all you can about Roman history, its culture, the daily life of its citizens. Want to dazzle an audience with the maiden voyage of the Alpha Centauri Express? Visit a spaceflight museum and take in all the sights and sounds. Go to a local college and see if you can pick an astronomer's brain (find someone with a big ego, and they might even do it for free). Go to the zoo, go to the fair, take a trip, surf the web  and, above all, read, read, read. Grow a big gnarly rosebush in your mind, each thorn and flower a piece of information you've learned, each branch a thread of your story. Then, like Mr. Miyagi, prune the bonsai a little bit at a time until the best parts are all that's left.

If you don't know about something, either write about something else or find out about it. Don't try and 'fake it'. Your audience deserves better and they will call you out for a doofus every time.

Before I go, I want to mention something about one of my favorite resources for research, a man I think you should be aware of, but probably aren't.

William R. Corliss was a physicist who made a name for himself in the field of anomalistics (the study of anomalies in science and nature which defy current theory). He spent several decades organizing tens of thousands of disparate bits of information gleaned from all kinds of sources (mostly scientific journals and popular science articles) into an absolutely wonderful set of catalogs. Noted author Arthur C. Clarke compared him to "Charles Fort, only much more scientific". Just a quick perusal of some of his work, especially his Science Frontiers vol I & II, will give a fantasist fits of creativity to last a week.

I first learned of Mr. Corliss when my father passed away several years ago and I inherited his personal library. My father had one nicely-made hardbound book titled "The Moon and the Planets". I quickly learned it was one volume in a set of catalogs and that it was self-published by the author William R. Corliss. I soon made my mind up to purchase the remaining volumes en masse (a considerable investment for me) and did so upon my return from taking part in a geological survey in southern California. Sadly, upon receiving my order, I was sent a note by his wife Virginia announcing his passing in July of 2011.

I realize I'm late to the party and that all the tributes to this unsung genius have been printed and posted long ago. But I wanted to take a tiny piece of my corner of the Matrix and devote it to someone whom I think made the universe a more awesome place to live. If you want to know more, here's his Wikipedia page and a link to a related article at the Charles Fort Institute: