When I was younger, all the writing advice I came across told me to go out and experience life. The logic behind that was that you would then have a pool of experiences to pull from for your writing. It used to frustrate me because I wanted to be a writer when I was in my late teens. I’m not going to say “they” were right, but they were right, at least for me. I’ve seen a lot of young writers lately, mostly on blogs and/or Medium, and I’m not sure this advice holds true for everyone. I do believe that a good writer can write about anything and make it sound good.
This goes back to the “write what you know” advice that we’ve all heard time and time again. Therefore, it follows that if you know more about a wider range of subjects, you have more to write about. A writer needs to be curious enough to go along with something that might be against his or her normal inclination. But we go along as a scribe, as a historian to potentially document the event with our writer’s eye. This is what I’m speaking to, we need a lot of those types of events in order to be able to fully write authentically. If you haven’t ever been to a bullfight, how would you know how to explain one? They are horrifying, in my opinion, but then, I’m American. I’m not sure what was more horrifying, the poor bull getting tortured, or the people screaming in support of the bullfighter. It was surreal. It was even more so to my 16-year-old mind. That’s the kind of experience you need.
Call it research. But it’s life. It gets you outside, away from the keyboard and out amongst your potential readers. Make no mistake, we need to understand what motivates people. While most of us are introverts, I would guess, we need to understand what our readers will want if we desire to make a living from writing. Even Hemingway, who considered Fitzgerald’s changing of his stories to make them more salable “whoring,” wrote what people wanted. Or rather, people wanted what he wrote. But that was because he was a student of “writing what you know.” His voice was authentic because you knew that he had probably experienced whatever he was writing about. That gave him a place of authority that came across in his writing.
Fast forward from my early 20s to now, freshly 50 years old, and I get what all this writing advice has been trying to tell me. Over the last 30 years, I’ve been living my life, as I gave up on my dream of writing long ago. During that time I was living life. I’m fortunate enough to have landed in a career that has me travel extensively and puts me in front of a lot of people, which gives me a lot of interactions to pull from. I have a huge well to source my ideas and details from.
Even now, I will follow along into something I’m really not keen to do just for the sake of the experience, watching and observing. I used to love the airports before 9/11 when families could come right up to the gate with their travelers. It was fascinating to watch the interactions of people saying goodbye or hello. It’s not quite the same when the traveler comes down the escalator into baggage claim as it was when someone greeted their loved ones right off the plane. There was a magic in the air, we all understood what they were feeling, even if we had never felt it ourselves. Now, it’s changed to be a place of transactions and rushing, since there is no one ever waiting for you when you leave the plane. The excitement is delayed until later. I know this to be true because I watch it weekly.
It would be hard to fully describe this scene if we hadn’t been there. Sure, fiction is fiction, and I believe there are people who can imagine what it would be like to be in such and such a situation, and they do well. But for writing and inspiration, there is nothing better than a wide array of experiences. This is especially helpful on those days where the words don’t seem to want to come out and play nicely. If that happens, just go out and experience something, fuel the mind and you’ll be amazed at what will follow.
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