Has there ever been more destructive advice than that doled out by the “creative” writing courses—“write what you know”? You ought to know something about your subject, of course: it’s no good writing a novel about a guy who works for the highway department and saying, “He climbed into that big thing that looks like a sort of long tractor …” But Shakespeare didn’t know much about court life in Denmark or the problems of minority communities in Venice, and he didn’t do a lot of on-site research, either. And one thing I’ve noticed since 9/11 is that knowing too much about one particular thing gives you a kind of tunnel vision.

The folks who predicted the Yanks would be bogged down in an Afghan quagmire were all the ones who were the biggest experts on the place, had spent years in Kabul and Kandahar and Jalalabad and knew the differences...


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