Author Solutions, Editing, Indie book publishing, iuniverse, Publishing, self publishing, writing

3 ways you can use your life experience to help write a great story

You have probably heard the old adage, “write what you know”.  That is great advice for any aspiring author. However, I think too many writers believe those words only apply to factual knowledge when they should actually serve as encouragement to draw on all your sensual experiences for writing. In other words, don’t neglect your remembrance of smells and touch and emotions and particular sounds and dialect. As a writer, you have a vast resource of experiences to draw from to make your writing as good as it can be. Here are three ways you can tap experiences from your past.

Draw from places you have been. Too many writers try to describe locations and scenes that they have never visited. That usually creates a flat or incorrect description of a setting. When you are establishing a scene, take the time to draw upon what you remember from a particular location with all your senses. Use that to bring the scene to life for the reader. Also, be careful if you are writing about a city or geography where you have never traveled. Making up a setting for a fantasy novel is fine, but I would not recommend describing a location from someone else’s description.

Use dialogue and physical description to convey emotion instead of telling the reader how the character feels. Too often first-time writers tell readers what a character is experiencing emotionally, which is not the best way to draw the reader into the life of the character. Writing in that way reads more like a newspaper than a novel. Instead, use dialogue to unveil what the character is feeling or thinking.

One of the best examples I know of personally is the book Still Alice written by Lisa Genova.  This book, which was first self-published by iUniverse, is now a Simon and Schuster title and a major motion picture starring Julianne Moore. The first time I heard Lisa talk about writing the book she explained that she had actually taken acting classes to develop her craft of writing dialogue. It definitely worked. The book, which takes you through the experience of a woman with early onset memory loss, masterfully draws you into what Alice is experiencing. I could not put it down.

…think about all the experiences of your life as a place to look for inspiration. Smells you remember as a child. Time spent with crazy relatives. Car rides with the family.

Visit your past to find things to use today.  When you think about writing, you should think about all the experiences of your life as a place to look for inspiration. Smells you remember as a child. Time spent with crazy relatives. Car rides with the family. Any or all of those may be resources you can draw from to make your writing more interesting.  One author who used her past as motivation for writing a whole book is Virginia Castleman. Virginia self-published her book Strays with Archway Publishing and then was picked up by Simon and Schuster.  In the video below, she talks about how drawing from her childhood challenges gave her the inspiration to write the book.




4 thoughts on “3 ways you can use your life experience to help write a great story

  1. Thank you Keith! Just what I needed to hear right now! This is helping me keep the courage to continue with my book writing journey. I have decided to write an autobiographic “self help” book by letting the reader form their own opinion and take on board what they feel might help them, while reading the stories of my life that have given me the insights that helped me so much with overcoming my problems. The reason I came to this idea was seeing that the people that needed it most, rejected the “how to” self help books, I recommended them to read, with excuses that it was not interesting enough and too boring to read. I think a lot of resistance to learning comes from our school days. I like learning from experience, rather than lectures myself, so why not let them learn from my experiences?
    “why would anyone be interested in your autobiographic stories, your not famous!” was what I recently heard from a family member after telling him about my plans of publishing a book about my life (he had not read any of my stories when he said that).
    This was of course a big downer which put doubts in my mind whether my stories are spectacular enough to find a large audience out there, because my life was not that special compared to some…
    I feel that even if I can connect with only a handful of people that make a small change in their lives for the better, learning from my experiences, it is worth doing and kept focused on my mission with this in mind. Of course my aim is to connect with many and help make this world a little better for everyone.
    I am currently in the final stages of completing it and expect it to be available on Amazon around the start of March after a professional edit. Fingers crossed 😉

    • keithogorek says:

      I am so encouraged to hear this blog post was helpful. Press on and share your story. You never know how many people you can impact with your book until you publish it.

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