Our lives are an important element of our writing. Some of the most oft-recited advice for writers is that we should write what we know or, at least, get a lot of life experience. That’s not entirely true, but we shouldn’t stop living even if we are passionate about writing. Just living in front of a computer won’t cut it.
I was recently on an online forum where more experienced writers discussed their craft. One of them said something that really stuck with me. She said that too often we emphasize that young writers need to write, write, write. While reading and writing are one of the best ways to get better, we can’t forget that it’s important to live, too.
Our experiences enrich our writing, but that doesn’t mean we have to have the most heartbreaks or travel the whole world to write a book. There are everyday experiences in your life that speak to the human condition. You don’t have to use events from your life, but you can take inspiration from the moments you live. It’s also possible to balance both your life and your writing if you’re truly dedicated.
Here’s how to jump off and experience life for your writing.
1. Be Writing While You’re Not Writing
A writer never has a vacation. For a writer, life consists of either writing or thinking about writing.
Carry around an idea notebook for the moments that strike you. Write down the poetry of your mind while going about your day. This will help strengthen your ideas when you have more time to sit down and type them out. My favorite thing is jotting down one-line concepts that I’d like to delve into later. Even if all I have is a scrap of an idea, it can be all I need to get to work. And hey, you never know if it’ll inspire you to write your own memoir.
2. Talk To People
Writing dialogue can be challenging. We don’t want our characters to come off as stilted or unrealistic. When you speak to people, listen to how others around you speak. Do they reply in sentence fragments and slang? Use this in your dialogue!
One way that I really learned a lot about this was by interviewing people. Whether I’m on the phone or in person, I always have a tape recorder handy so I can transcribe my work later. You may not get the chance to do this, but you can sit in a coffee shop and listen to the voices around you.
3. Take Adventures
So maybe you can’t go backpacking across Europe at the moment, but you can live small adventures. Go take a walk and return to nature. Check out downtown or get into an arts festival. This will let you experience beautiful surroundings and just might bring out ideas.
4. Let Life Inspire You
Writing well means never having to say, ‘I guess you had to be there.’
Watch for the light slanting through the window. Watch the world from high-up and get excited about the view. Listen always for moments that you will never forget.
5. Let Your Goals Make You Excited To Wake Up In The Morning
Make a goal for yourself that makes you excited to wake up in the morning. For me, that’s writing. If you can do this, you’re well on your way to being excited about your work. Absorb the experiences that let you be a more real and genuine person.
6. Don’t Forget to Live
Books may be our friends, but it’s great to go out and meet other people. Make friends, and learn from your experiences. These people might just influence your work in amazing ways, and make you more conscious of the subtleties of life. Our characters are supposed to be examples of living, breathing humans, right? So spend time getting to know other people.
It’s true that once you start writing all the time, you really do think about your work every day. I know that when I wake up in the morning, I think about the writing I want to get done that day. I want to hear the reassuring clack of my fingers typing away on my laptop. Just don’t forget to live an amazing life along the way, and remember this thought from Anne Lamott:
The business of being a writer is ultimately about asking yourself, how alive am I willing to be?
How alive are you willing to be?