Writing with all your faculties

There is a maxim: write about what you know.  There is even a play of that name by Paul Gisby. Taken literally, of course, it is nonsense.  (The maxim, not the play.)  If people wrote only about what they knew, there would, for example, be no fantasy.  On the other hand, you should certainly make an effort to know what you’re writing about.

Despite the impression I give (on this blog and elsewhere), I don’t know everything.  Nobody does.  (Thorstein Veblen was described as the last man who knew everything.  He didn’t, of course, but it was good propaganda.)  For example, there are aspects of the Church of England that baffle me.  At one point, I understood the difference between a Vicar and a Rector, but Canons, Deacons and Prebendaries are beyond my ken.  (And never mind that the C of E has Vicar and Curate the wrong way round, with Vicars curating parishes and Curates vicarious on their behalf.)  The Church seems to take pleasure in applying specific, unconventional meanings to common words.

This is not a terrier.

What does the word terrier bring to mind?   If you have never held the rank of Churchwarden or higher, then I would expect that you would be imagining a breed of small dog.  The Churchwarden, on the other hand, envisages the real estate belonging to the church.  (Here terrier is derived from terra, Latin for land.)
How about faculty?  Commonly either a sense (as in having all ones faculties), or a grouping of subjects at a university (the faculty of law).  Not for Churchwardens.  To them, a faculty is a licence (from the church authorities) to make changes to the fixtures and fittings of the church.

Knowing that you can’t make changes to a church without a faculty is usually completely unimportant – unless you are part of the management of a church.  But if you are writing about the topic, and you don’t know, then you need to find out.  That’s why it matters that I don’t know everything.  I’m a publisher, and as such, the gatekeeper between the writer and the public.  Occasionally, on the way to publication, reviewers, editors or proof-readers will pick-up authorial mistakes in the form of incorrect uses of words or concepts: for example, the word hilt is a specific part of a sword; clinically, alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant;  the meaning of heifer makes it a gendered noun, and so on.  But because we don’t know everything, we have to assume that the writer knows more about the subject than we do and is not making it up on the spot.

The problem for writers is that someone amongst their readership or audience will certainly know a lot about the subject.  Consequently, if you make things up, you will be found out.  Hence the following tweet from ChurchCare.co.uk ‏(@CofE_Churchcare)

Last episode of the wonderful #Rev coming up on Monday. Will anyone notice they didn’t have a faculty for taking out those Georgian pews?

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