Writers Need to Get a Life

To be a good writer, you have to spend a healthy amount of time away from your manuscript. To be a good writer, you have to have a life away from your desk.

Many of us may be jealous of famous full-time writers, wishing that we too could pour all our waking hours into our creative work. But is spending all your time in front of a computer or pad of paper good for your writing?

I’d argue that it isn’t. Writing without living makes for a malnourished writer.

As one of my mentors explained to me, we write from life. This points out an obvious yet often overlooked fact: we are not writing and creating in a vacuum. Our experiences shape us. We are not completely objective. We are subjective.

This is a good thing because life experience is a fount of originality. No one has had a life exactly like yours.

We do not become good writers by avoiding the responsibilities and details of life. If we only devoted our time to creating and writing and didn’t participate in the elements of living, our creativity would be malnourished.

To my fellow fantasy writers, we do not become masters of fantasy by completely devoting our time to fantasy. We do not become masters of the genre by locking ourselves in the basement and playing Dungeons and Dragons all day or sequestering ourselves in our rooms and playing fantasy RPGs every hour we’re awake.

Get outside. Observe nature. Relate to people.

For me, life experiences have been crucial in capturing the details of my writing (particularly for the fantasy I’ve written). Hiking mountains helped me to write mountains. Being out on the trail taught me about switchbacks, the elusiveness of mountain peaks, what it’s like to walk into a cloud, the sheerness of cliffs, and the deepness of ravines.

Relating to people from different cultures has helped me to create new cultures for my book. I was able to pick up how people talk, the expressions they use, what they value and how they order their society.

Think of the experiences you have had, and think of how they might enrich your writing. If you don’t think you have had any enriching experiences or that no such experiences are made available to you, I would challenge you to take a deeper look at what you have in front of you. This might take some creativity on your part.

So not only are you called to be creative in how you write but also how you see our real world.

Children are really good at this. When my son was three, he could take the plain old parking lot behind our apartment building and turn it into a construction site using his toy trucks and imagination.

When I was a kid, I spent some years living in a fairly bland suburban subdivision. But my friends and I were able to come up with grand adventures in this seemingly boring place. We often went to the construction sites where new houses were being built, finding castoff construction material to build our own castles and forts. We made wonder out of scrap.

If we as writers find ourselves in what appears to be an uninspiring place or context, it would do us some good to remember what it was like to see the world as a child. This is our challenge. It goes with the territory of being a creative writer.

As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke once wrote:

If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.

 

What life experiences had you had that enrich your writing? Share them in the comments below.

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