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.