Write what you know. This may seem like the most obvious advice in the word, but it’s not. While I’m sure many of us have a burning desire to write the next great novel of pure fictitious brilliance, there is something to be said for using the material your life has gracefully provided you. And it is immediate and at-hand. The only research required is within your own personal history and daily life.
Julia Cameron‘s suggestion of writing “morning pages,” from her book called the The Artist’s Way, is one great suggestion to mine the creative juices from our lives. In this free writing, free flow, pre-consciousness approach, we can find creative breakthrough by writing whatever comes to us. I suspect that this method frequently reveals gems from one’s own personal reality.
What if you rebut: “My life is so boring!”
I’d respond: “Is it? Is it really?”
My six-year-old daughter tells me when she is bored. Often times it is when she is not engaged by me or a teacher or a friend or her siblings; and also when she is too tired or grumpy to play by herself. When she says this, it always blows my mind. She has a pretty amazing life for a little girl – that’s what I feel from my perspective at least. I’ve stocked our home with countless garage sale books. She has neighborhood friends and they play (safely) in the street. We travel to visit our out of town family. When I look at all the places she has gone, the experiences our family has had together, the opportunities open to her, I think: “Wow, you’ve had a great life so far, my dear.” I hope most days she realizes this too.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
One of our mandates as writers is to translate our experiences into our fiction, non-fiction, poetry, young adult stories, mysteries, essays, short stories, and the list goes on. Whatever your mind can conceive of, right?
If you are a fiction writer that has never considered taking inspiration from your own life, I suggest you give it a try! Think about the people that cross your path every day; your coworkers, family and friends . Maybe some of them can become your most beloved characters – or villains. You have a collection of people around you. People you know extremely well – from their opinions to their facial expressions. Take inspiration from these folks and write that kind of detail and intimacy with humanity into your stories. The same goes for settings.
I’ve heard it said somewhere, something to the effect of: there is no true fiction. (If someone can point me to the actual quote, that would be much appreciated.) There is a grain of truth behind all stories. What better reason is there to write what we know!
Somehow, my life experiences always seep into my writing. Or perhaps I would better describe it by saying: my life provides the richness of inspiration for my writing. This is something I am extremely grateful for.
I am so inspired by the human experience that I have inevitably become an avid observer and recorder. For me, memoir and personal essays are an easy choice. However, it is nice every once and a while to break out and experiment with fiction. You could say my successful completions of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month; 50K in the month of November) and the 3 Day Novel Contest (September long weekend; 100+ pages) are just such a foray into crafting work outside my every-day life. I would also argue that I simply love a challenge.
Funny enough, I actually found it much easier to write fiction to the pace of the racing clock during these competitions than I did the one year I participated in NaNoWriMo with a memoir as my goal. I couldn’t unearth my personal stories that quickly. They require a slow-cook-approach I’ve discovered.
What I write about most often, for my profession and for pleasure, are family stories. Parenting. Motherhood. Being a working-mom. Being an artist-mom. Personal identity. These topics are close to my heart. They feel almost quintessential and spiritual to me. For now, I am telling these stories through creative non-fiction. Its a blurry category. Is it 100% truth? Well, no. Is it fiction? Nope, not really. At the same time, I feel like creative non-fiction is my perfect vehicle, for now, to write what I know.
What writing projects have captured your heart right now?
What are you working on?
How do you use your own life as inspiration for your work – no matter what genre you are writing in?
Please comment below. Let’s have a conversation : )
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Thank you for reading!
– Alexis Marie
I think people envision writers sitting around in over sized leather armchairs, writing in pen by a dim incandescent light, cigar smoke wafting around in lazy curls. Or maybe the idealized vision includes a reserved seat in a coffee shop where the writer gorges on lattes and people watching, clicking their laptop ferociously as inspiration strikes. Or maybe the writer is traveling in the Sahara. Or scratching notes on a pocket pad of paper as bullets whiz by and the thunder of tanks surround them.
Or the vision of the writer includes the best-seller status. I recently heard an aspiring writer say he wants to write the next Harry Potter series. I chuckled to myself, while wishing the writer all the luck in the world. I did wonder though, what is that person chasing? Is it the long hours of writing, the even longer hours editing and the painstaking process of bringing the book(s) to publication? Or is the writer hungry for the title, the gold stamped cover, the royalty cheques, and the fame?
What does the life of a writer really entail?
There are perks for sure, but the writing life is actually bursting with hard work, rejection and administrative chores that none of those daydreaming about the idealistic writer actually take into account.
I wake up by an alarm and get my kids to school. I make lists of things I need to accomplish – and typically writing is only the half of it. I answer emails and phone calls, and handle the business, legal and insurance needs for all my projects. In my daily life, I do an exorbitant amount of research, planning, strategizing, and networking – all so I can be a writer and do what I love. I work in the evenings. I am always collecting ideas. I dream about my characters or a speech I am to give – until my alarm wakes me up again.
It’s a fabulous life!
The life of the writer is not glamorous… at least not yet from my experience. I’ll let you know if that changes. Like any passion; there are good days and bad days, perks and pitfalls, and sacrifices that need to be made to get to the next level.
If you aspire to be the next J. K. Rowling, good luck to you! (I am not being sarcastic.) Roll up your sleeves and get to work! I look forward to reading your book one day – and sharing mine with you.
Graduations are bitter sweet. I loved my two years in the Masters of Fine Art program at Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. I met many wonderful writers, both those that sat beside me in classes and those that taught us – but from all those creative individuals, I have learned a great deal.
It is sad to move on, leaving a fabulous cohort and regular residencies behind. Cambridge was a hub of creativity and vibrated with people and ideas. Yet, it’s the possibilities of the next horizon, so they say, which is wildly exciting.
I am an extremely planned person, so I know my next few steps, but at the same time the possibilities astound me. I’m open for whatever may come next. I’m thinking PhD, new writing assignments and my next memoir, which is already in the works.
I’m the kind of person that thrives on activity. I may not be working hard for university classes after this, but I’ll be putting that same determination into whatever is to come. And don’t worry – I’ll keep you posted!
Graduation speech given. Degree received. Now on to the next adventure!
Happy writing, my friends!
One of my favorite parts about being a writer is learning about the world. I’ve written about Santorini, Greece, about cabin life in Alberta and about people from all walks – their struggles, history and triumphs. Writing allows the wonderful tool of observation to flourish, which is the ability to perceive and seek understanding, even to simply acknowledge that not everything may be understood.
Not everyone needs to be a professional writer to enjoy this learning and vision of the world. I believe anyone can teach themselves to see. Pick up a pen and write impressions. Sit still in a place of motion, a train station, a museum, a pedestrian avenue; what do you see, what are the people doing, who are they? What does it all mean?
Reflecting on my own experiences is another way I learn through writing. When I write my columns for Edmonton Woman Magazine or larger sections of my life in my memoirs, I begin to see the rhythms and randomness and beautiful complexities of life, of my life specifically and human existence in general. This is a gift. Writing has the power to transform.
What are you learning these days?
Writing a book proposal is a marathon, not a sprint. While many writers dream of penning the next Harry Potter, creating a great book is only one part of the process. The writer must then transfer all their skills to crafting an outstanding proposal that will wow many audiences, from editors to the finance department to marketing.
Here are three lessons I learned about writing an awesome book proposal:
- Do your research and really know your audience. This is twofold. Know the audience for your book, who is going to read it, but also know the audience who will be reading your proposal. Tailor each section to simultaneously present the facts AND sell your book. Of course don’t sell in a pushy, cheesy, or desperate sort of way, but make your case why your book needs to be published – and back up that opinion.
- Get help from others. This was such a wonderful boost for me when I got sick of my proposal, having worked on it for weeks straight, to gain a new set of eyes. Ask friends or family to help research statistics or surf Amazon to compile a book list of comparable titles. These are people who have watched you write your masterpiece and now they are invested as well in seeing you succeed. All in all, I had four other people outside myself help with my proposal – and I am incredibly grateful. My mom, an avid memoir reader, read my book proposal multiple times, her first go around noticing a giant gap. I likely would have missed that hole entirely without her.
- Spend a good chunk of time on your marketing plan. I read countless guides, studied how other books were marketed and daydreamed about the right marketing trajectory for my story. Now, I feel tremendously excited about that stage of the process – which is a good thing if publishers are passing the bulk of marketing responsibilities on to authors. With a very specific and clear plan, writers are able to jump right into marketing activities that will ensure their book is a success.
What stage of the proposal writing process are you at?
What have you learned from writing your book proposal?
Later this summer I will be sharing a book proposal outline, including all the elements you need for success.