When I was in college, all I wanted to study was writing. It made sense at the time: Writers need to know how to write in order to write. So I didn’t study anything else that would distance me from my writing.
I only read the classics to study the craft of the story. I only read nonfiction books that elaborated on the art of writing.
These are great things to do as a writer. But it’s not the only thing you should be doing.
I went straight from undergrad to grad school (in writing, of course). When I sat down with my cohort for the first time to read our stories aloud, I had a reality check.
One peer shared his story about living at Yellowstone and hitchhiking back home. Another shared his story about balancing fatherhood and a full-time job. A third shared her story about finding her biological mother.
They were all doing something that I wasn’t. They were living life.
It seems simple when put that way. But writing books zoom in on adding alliteration and commas, not getting the writer out of one’s comfort zone. Novels and classics are screaming about it from cover to cover, but writing students are so focused on a specific scene that we miss the whole concept of plot development.
What makes writing so enjoyable to read are the experiences brought to it. Creative writers need to understand human interaction, see new places, and try new activities in order to create well-rounded characters and climatic plot arcs.
Nonfiction writers also need to apply life experiences. Historical writers visit ancient landmarks, technical writers practice building and medical writers watch surgeries and studies.
I had my eye on the prize to become a writer. I put my life on pause and went to school to bring myself a step closer to it. But I didn’t have any experiences to write about until I pressed play.
So this is my blog post explaining why I have been absent for three weeks. I was experiencing life. Life didn’t get in the way of my writing. Instead, life called me to step away and absorb what was happening in the moment in order to bring perspective to my writing.
I packed up my car and drove 2,000 miles across the country. And I saw this.
How does this story end? I can’t tell you that yet. I’m only in the middle of it myself. But I can tell you that I’m not afraid to live the story.
How has living life impacted your writing? Share your story below.
I had to get away.
See, after five weekends of cat-sitting, I was getting antsy. All my travel plans were shelved so that my friends could go off on exciting adventures across the country. The things I do to make a little extra dough.
Now it was my turn.
After feeding the cats an early breakfast and doting on their petting needs, I hit the road. These cats would want dinner, so I didn’t go too far. Just two hours away down windy roads and through hidden villages for my final destination: Tonto Natural Bridge State Park.
Not every adventure has to be thousands of miles away. But every writer needs an adventure.
Traveling may seem uncharacteristic for a writer to do. We writers are stereotyped as introvert homebodies who don’t travel farther than the local library or downtown café to sit hunched over our book or laptop screen.
That couldn’t be further from the truth.
While writers need solitude to write their masterpiece, we also crave adventure to craft it. If you’re on the fence about taking a trip near or far, consider these reasons about taking the leap—or the drive—towards adventure.
New Places, New Ideas
Creativity is finding ways to make connections between ideas. And sometimes you need a new idea to make a better connection.
What makes traveling so exciting is because something is new. You discover something new or learn something new or find something new—or you enjoy the newness of diverting from your usual routine.
This newness prompts us to ask questions—and we writers love to ask questions. That’s because questions are the start of the creative process. We’re not afraid to ask, “What can this newness bring to my writing?”
Live The Character Journey
At Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, my mission was to hike to the natural bridge.
My obstacles? Lots and lots of boulders.
Hiking to my destination meant jumping from one large rock to the next. And when I reached my destination, all my hard work was instantly justified.
If the trail was paved and the weather not a windy 40 degrees, then it wouldn’t have been an adventure. As the saying goes: It’s about the journey, not the destination.
Traveling shines light on these important character development questions:
- What obstacles does you character need to overcome before reaching that destination?
- How do these obstacles impact the character’s thoughts, actions, words and motivation?
- How does your character feel once reaching that destination because of conquering those obstacles?
The Journey Has Risks
Beneath the natural bridge is a flowing creek. This makes the boulders slippery and worn away.
And this is where my trouble began.
My challenge was to get from my wet, polished boulder onto the next. I patted every inch of its slick surface, investigating all my options. I found that the most difficult solution was my only solution.
So I clung to that slippery, smooth rock with all ten fingers—until my one hand slipped. Now it was up to the strength of my one hand to keep me from dropping into the cold, rocky waters below.
It was close—but I made it. Then I remembered my cell phone was in my pocket.
It wasn’t a life or death situation, but a lot was at risk. If I dropped, I could have seriously injured myself. My food supplies would have become soggy and nonedible. And my cell phone would have suffered serious water damage.
Traveling is a reminder that tough choices have to be made. Things don’t always go as planned. The right choice is usually the hardest one to make.
Traveling verifies why we ask the tough plot questions when crafting a story:
- What obstacles would really test the character’s motivation?
- What other ways could the character conquer this challenge? Why does the character not choose these solutions?
- How can the easiest solutions to the problem not be available to the character?
- What needs to be at stake for the character to commit to this challenge?
How does traveling impact your writing? Share your story below.