Friday, May 22, 2015

Experience the Real World

Writing is a reflection of life. If you write non-fiction, it’s a documentation and interpretation of life. And if you choose to write fiction, you convert what happens in real life into fictional drama. The important thing is not to just sit in front of your computer and forget about life.  Get out and live it.

You learned to write in school. However, the academic environment of school isn’t real life. And though you studied past writers in the form of literature, you never learned about their techniques, only their ideas. In fact, too many academicians infer too much from the works of famous writers. They inject symbolism and innuendo into everyone’s work, because they can’t see into the mind of these writers at the moment of creation.

Ernest Hemingway is most noted for his adventures in the real world. He was to some extent an eccentric, but he knew that if he didn’t try all sorts of things, he wouldn’t be able to write honestly about any of them. The old saying, “Write what you know,” is key to this way of thinking.

But in school, you didn’t write what you know. When you had to write a research paper, you searched out the facts and spit them out on paper in perhaps a slightly different form. You never took the time to digest them. After all, the only reader who mattered in this process was your teacher. Only his or her opinion counted. But in real life that’s not how it works.

A good writer writes from experience. And while you may not be able to afford the time or money to experience everything in life, you do experience a lot each day. Much of it you take for granted.

You don’t have to go to some exotic locale to gain insight. If you’re like most people, you struggle with relationships day in and day out. You know how you relate to people and how they relate to you. With some acute observation, you can study the relationship of others. Everyone knows about relationships. They just take them for granted and seldom look at them as material to write about.

You probably also take a vacation once in a while. Some people go to the beach and just lie in the sun. But you can see the beach and all who are on it as one giant resource to draw on. While lying there, try playing the “What If” game. Look at the group of people nearest you and see what you can gain from observing them throughout the day. Tune in to their conversation. Do they give you any ideas that you can work into a story?

Or perhaps you prefer to go on an historic vacation, visiting historic sites nearby or far away. What are you learning about these places and the people who inhabited them? One writer visited Fort Delaware, a former POW camp for Confederate soldiers. The fort has been lovingly restored by a group of dedicated volunteers and the State of Delaware. Recently, they reconstructed one of the prisoners’ barracks which reveals the lives of the 12,000 prisoners who were incarcerated there for the duration of the war. He learned a lot about their experiences. So much so, that he was able to create an article that truly captures the POW experience at the time. Being able to sit on one of the bunks in the barracks and seeing re-enactors portraying the roles of various prisoners put him right back in the war. And the knowledge he gained on that visit help put his readers there, too.

But writing isn’t limited to pleasurable things. How about documenting a tragedy. With all the news available to you, you should be able to glean a wealth of information to use later in a short story or novel. Because the media goes into overkill on most tragedies or disasters, you won’t be able to use any of the information right away. But you can put aside what you’ve learned for a writing project in the near future. 

To experience life, you don’t have to go zipping through the cloud forest on a zip line or get in the ring with a ferocious bull. Instead, look to experience those things in life that interest you. Then you’ll really be able to write what you know.