To Write, One Must First Live

Life is a Highway
Tom Cochrane
YouTube     Lyrics

One of the most tried and true pieces of advice to new writers is, “Write what you know.” But, what if that’s not interesting? You want me to write about paying bills? Shopping for groceries? About coming home from work exhausted and falling face first into bed? Not exactly. Instead I can translate these experiences, ones that are common to many of my own readers into new and foreign settings, preserving the familiarity of the emotions tied to them. In this way, I maintain the realism but also preserve the awesome.

I’m interested in stories about space pirates getting away with enough loot to keep flying a few more days. I know what it is to look into my wallet and realize that money will be tight until my next pay day.

I want to pit wizards against each other in epic battles to decide the fate of the world. I have experienced conflict, fought and worked to see my goals accomplished. Sometimes, I have lost, taken a beating, and had to stand up again despite the pain.

I yearn to explore places that I will never be able to visit and delve into cultures that have never existed. I have moved, leaving all that is familiar and comfortable, to make a new life in a place where I feel alien and alone.

The scale, and the particulars, may be different, but in the end, the emotions can translate effectively.

If you want to write what you know, then you must both continuously seek new experiences and pay attention to the world around you. Climb down into the Grand Canyon, stand on Plateau Point, and feel the sense of wonder and smallness that the world can inspire in you if you let it. Find someone who is completely different from you and make a friend; explore how they think and feel. Find a fear and conquer it so you may know both the terror and exhilaration. Read something completely outside your normal genre to walk a mile in a pair of shoes you would never consider putting on otherwise. Attend a variety of religious services to experience a set of beliefs different from your own.

“Write what you know,” is only a limitation if you let it be so. I prefer to view it as a call to action and experience. To survive, I must spend a portion of my time working, but I’ve learned over the last three years that my career can’t supersede those things that I have found to be necessary to my mental, physical and spiritual health. I must first live, richly and deeply, and only then can I know enough to write.


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