As it grows colder and I continue riding my bike to work, my fingers freezing to the handlebars, I think how vital it is for a writer to experience things to give credibility to their writing. I’m not saying you have to commit a crime and get arrested, or actually hike a mountain and get lost. Many writers do write from life experience (such as, being trapped on a mountainside in winter), but most of those writers are crazy.
Not really. But let’s be honest. Most of us imagine wild scenarios, research, read, watch movies, conduct interviews and fling our imaginations to the wind to think what it would be like to experience being trapped on a mountainside, or being a criminal. But a teaspoon of personal experience can make the writing more realistic.
If you’re writing a criminal, or an average Joe who slowly becomes a criminal, I’m not suggesting you shoplift. But the next time you’re in a store, work your imagination. Pick up something expensive and pretend (I stress pretend) that you are going to steal it. Are your armpits getting damp? Mine would. Do you shake a little? What is your reaction to the thought of committing a crime? That’s valid experience. You might experience something completely different than you had imagined, and that’s the spice of writing.
Humans can survive incredibly harsh conditions, even for a small amount of time. So I consider letting yourself get a little cold (or hot!) is not going to kill you, and from that unpleasant experience, you can become a stronger sensory writer.
I write stories from an animal point of view. It is vital that I spend time outdoors in all weather conditions. I’m lucky to live in an area where I can swim in lakes, crawl through scrubby creek beds and grassy mountain slopes and otherwise get a dash of experience in the environment I hope to write, from the point of view of a creature who might live there. I can taste the changing season, and sense when the nights are cold enough for leaves to turn.
So let yourself get a little chilled the next time you take a walk, and then when your character is trapped out in the freezing night, you’ll have a taste of the experience from which to draw inspiration and credibility. Let that agonizing itch dig into your shoulder for a moment longer than is comfortable, so that you have a speck of an idea of torture (for you horror writers). Let the fly muck around on your wrist and tickle for an extra moment. Remember what it’s like to have the wind slashing your hair into your eyes when the car window is down. Drive with the air conditioner off for a few minutes. Don’t turn on the heat right away. Suffer a little. In a Zen way, you might also notice that minor annoyances don’t bother you as much.
Verily I say unto you, if you have experience as small as a pebble, from this you will write mountains.
To the experienced sensory writer, this experience, after several cups of coffee and an hour at the desk, easily transforms into…
Printing update, for those waiting on their books: Because my book length was a few pages longer than anticipated (adding a cool map, acknowledgements, etc) they had to add an extra “signature” and confirm paper and spine width and adjusted pricing with me.
I’ll let every know when the books are on the press and when they’re on their way to me!
Sincere thanks for your patience. Kickstart backers and pre-orders have my TOP priority!