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
Yesterday I visited the school where my husband is a vice principal. I wanted to see him, true, but the main reason I popped in was to hear Eva Olsson speak. She was visiting Edmonton to present to students in the Sturgeon School Division, traveling from her home city of Toronto, Canada.
Eva is a World War Two survivor and her stories were arresting. She used her experience with the “Nazi bullies” to implore the children in the audience to stop using the word hate and instead treat each other with compassion and respect.
She told the story of how her family was lined up with thousands of other Jews and separated. One group went to the gas chambers. The other group was put into work camps. Eva was just a teenager. Her mom was separated from her, sent to be murdered, and that was the last time they saw each other.
Eva’s father went to a work camp and died of starvation. The photo Eva showed was of a long line of bodies so thin that their stomachs caved in and the people were literally just skin and bone. It was like a collection of arching ribcages. The image made me shudder.
Eva and other girls her age were sent to another work camp. They slept outside on the grass – even when it was raining – and spent winter nights in a mud hole like pigs. They were all given wooden clogs, not in their size, and had no socks. Their feet were covered in blisters.
“May a new love for humanity be born out of the horrors we have known.” From the Scroll of Remembrance at Bergen-Belsen
Eva spoke of the power of hate to do such horrible things to other people. She also critiqued the bystanders of Europe who let this horrible tragedy of genocide take place. Her message was that bystanders – even those of today – that watch evil happen and do nothing are just as guilty.
I felt incredibly proud to hear such morality praised and advocated for – and also a little uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels our culture is very grey. We don’t want to upset others with our values so we water them down. Tolerance is at the forefront. Eva’s message actually felt wonderfully refreshing! There is right! There is wrong! We must be resolute in our convictions.
At one point she asked all the junior high kids: “Who does NOT like going to school?”
A large number of hands went up.
(Being a bookworm and an education-addict, I cringed when I saw the hands.)
What was Eva’s response?
“SHAME ON YOU!” she said sternly.
Eva did not go to school as a child or youth. She could not read or write. This embarrassed her greatly. She so badly wished to get an education! (She now holds a PhD so I believe her wish did come true.)
This is one of Eva’s messages that will linger on with me forever.
I don’t want my children to take their education for granted. It is a gift.
“I cannot live in the past, but I must life with it. Perhaps writing my story will weaken the hold the past has had on me.” – Dr. Eva Olsson LLD (Hon.), FRCPSC
When I was younger and in grade school, I was bullied relentlessly. It wounded my spirit deeply and I too would have put up my hand saying I would rather be anywhere else than in the classroom. At the time, I didn’t appreciate school. Who does as a youth in North America where we don’t have to fight for it?
I hope to cultivate a love of education in my kids. The ability to read and write opens many doors, cultivates the imagination, allows for understanding and compassion for others, and creates a means for self-expression.
As both an avid reader and an author, I cannot imagine my life without the gifts of education and literacy. These are things I fight for in my life – not in grand ways, but they are priorities that I protect none the less. It can be as simple as turning off the TV to read a book. Choosing to use proper English even when texting. Reading to my children before I tuck them into bed even when I myself am oh so very tired.
I celebrate the stories my daughter writes on every piece of paper in the house. Her spelling is a mystery most days, but she is learning. She is hungry for it. What a gift! What a precious ability that we have which I hope we never, ever lose sight of. What a blessing!
I am so very thankful that Eva Olsson reminded me of this lesson – of the critical importance of literacy.
Eva’s life is inspiring. To read more about her, please click here.
I’m proud to share my latest article for Edmonton Woman Magazine:
Alexis Marie Uncensored: Distracted Humans
In the article, I reflect on the distracted driving law in Edmonton. For me, writing this article was a great reminder to stay focused on the road – BUT there is also a more profound message to be gleaned. I don’t believe the law will make much of a difference, and here is why: We live in a distracted culture.
- People find it hard to focus.
- We multitask too frequently.
- Sleep is fractured.
- Technology allows us to stay connected 24/7.
- We can check our status updates and news feeds in just a few swipes and clicks.
How many times have you had someone you were speaking with check their phone at the same time? Or look like they are not really listening but already planning their response? These are some of my pet peeves.
We are distracted humans.
When I reflect on this situation, I love to find the good. What is the cure for distraction? Focus of course!
Personally, I have found mindfulness an important practice in the pursuit of focus. Mindfulness is a type of meditation that encourages one to be present, in the moment, experiencing what is happening.
Mindfulness helps me to be in touch with my body, sensing what I need. Mindfulness keeps me focused on what is important in my life.
Have you ever tried mindfulness meditation?
Here is my Edmonton Woman article called “Riding High.”
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.
I love people, business and creativity. When these three fuse together, I overflow with ideas, which I’m happy to share. I have been a professional writer and artist for almost fifteen years and one aspect of my job which I love is mentoring others to become more successful.
I am currently mentoring a musician, a photographer, a writer, an artist… They are great minds and I am honoured to help them get where they want to go.
Here is a quote from one of my mentees:
“Being mentored. A wonderful experience of discovery and focus.
The best part about guidance from Alexis Marie Chute, professional artist, has been the inexhaustible amount of knowledge she can apply to your situation or seemingly unsolvable problem. Alexis Marie honestly and without judgement pointed out that in my case, spreading myself too thin with multiple projects and talents, would only result in a lack of finishing my projects and that I needed to find my focus or passion, and specialize.
After two weeks of intense thought on the homework she gave, I came up with precise lists of capabilities, skill levels and what I enjoyed the most. Alexis Marie used effective constructive criticism to then guide my focus as to how I would approach selling my products and gave suggestions for solving the problem in a positive and productive manner. As someone increasingly interested in the arts I would recommend her to anyone interested in putting in the time to seriously start their own artistic endeavours.
On that note, she is a kind and enthusiastic individual whose talent is beyond paint and portrait. Her life experience lends to her awareness of the sensitivity others may need and contributes to her knowledge that sometimes life doesn’t work out as planned so we all periodically need a little encouragement to seek out our hearts’ desires.”
Heather Groeller, Artisan
It is always rewarding for me to hear the positive feedback of clients – and these individuals are often an inspiration for me as well. Get in touch for more information about my mentoring services: email@example.com. I charge $50/one-hour session. It is a worthwhile investment.
Here are other posts about my mentoring:
Get Focused, Be Productive & Tap into your Creativity through Mentorship
Mentoring for the Modern Writer
Coaching, Mentoring & Consulting by Alexis Marie Chute
Happy Canada Day fellow Canadian writers! I wish you all a great day of celebrating this wonderful country we live in. I hope everybody’s ready to pick up some mini Canadian flags and wear your Canada hats! We really do live in an amazing country, and it deserves to be celebrated.
“It is wonderful to feel the grandness of Canada in the raw, not because she is Canada but because she’s something sublime that you were born into, some great rugged power that you are a part of.”
– Emily Carr
I hope Canada Day brings on inspiration!
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?
Last weekend was an awesome literary happening in Edmonton and I was so honoured to be a part of it. Words in 3D – D meaning dimensions: writing, editing and publishing – brought together many creative individuals from all over the country for interesting sessions, keynotes and networking.
I taught two awesome workshops and the positive feedback has been rolling in steadily ever since. If you would like more information about the workshops I taught – or to bring them to your writing group or organization – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
How to take a Picture Worthy of your Words
Memorable Memoir: Writing Personal Stories
I also mentored writers in the Blue Pencil Cafe. If you are interested in my mentoring, please click here for more information.
Here are some photos from the weekend.
Your writing is too important not to search out the support you need to take it to the next level. No matter what genre, I am the cheerleader you’ve always dreamed of rooting for you, and the coach you’ve always wished would see your potential and push you to succeed.
I have been mentoring people for years, though not always calling it as such. I have helped creative individuals utilize their talents, work smarter not harder, tap into the potential of blogging, social networks and other forms of marketing, and hone their literary craft to say exactly what they mean – and to do all this with style. I am the encouragement you need when you feel stuck.
Let me help you be excellent at all you do.
Alright. Alright. That’s enough! It’s boring to toot my own horn. Here is what one of my current clients has to say:
My mentoring sessions with Alexis Marie changed my view on how I was doing things. I learned that I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but that there are so many more things I could be doing right. I no longer sit around and wait to be discovered, I go out into the world and make people discover me.
Alexis Marie gave me direction, and taught me ways of achieving my goals I didn’t know existed. She taught me how to connect with people through words and construct a more powerful self-image that people would be intrigued with. I learned how to turn my weakness into strength and how to use my strength in the right way. Before Alexis Marie’s mentoring I was running in circles, now I’m finally on the right track.
If you are curious about mentoring, send me an email at email@example.com and book a session. The best way to see if I can assist you on your creative journey is by getting started. Let’s do that today.
Best wishes for all your writing projects!