Learning is a continuous process. We keep absorbing information, facts, implications and experiences as we move through our day to day life. Besides all those textbooks and classes we have taken, there's a parallel course of learning that we are seldom aware of - life lessons, observations and experiences. This is the learning process that carves depth into you as a person. We all got them, haven't we?
However, some of us are acutely aware of this footpath learning. We pay attention to the minor details, feelings and reactions from us and the world around us. If you are capable of observing the underlying dynamics of something common and finding the fascinating undercurrents in them, chances are you are artists of some kind. You are capable of converting the everyday mundane things into imagery worth enjoying.
I am not qualified to speak on behalf of any other art/creative pursuit whatsoever. But I deem myself ready to talk about writing. Writing based on true events and experiences is quite a trend nowadays. But I believe, a writer’s true potential lies in writing about things he has not experienced first-hand. Imagination is quite underestimated but those who really know art knows the importance of imagination.
What many people fail to understand is that imagination is indeed shaped from experiences and observations. So here I have come up with a few ways to convert life lessons, observations and experiences into words that can be enjoyed. Of course, the fillers will be imagination and that’s why we need to talk about the how-to and what-all.
1. Keep a writer's journal
It can be a notebook or a diary. Or it can be a note-making app or voice recorder, or a file on your computer. I use a couple of apps like Jotterpad and Gnotes on my phone to keep notes as they are handy and compact. If you enjoy actually penning down stuffs, do that though.
Jotterpad on Android is a great free note-making app which can be synced to your Google Drive. So when I note down my ideas, the next time I sit down to write, I can pull those text files open on my laptop. It's a great way to write on the go. Similarly, Gnotes is a note-making app in which you can register and sign in through the browser on your computer. Either way, what you note down when the muse strikes will be saved there for later.
2. Observe in Third Person
Whenever you are out simply walking or heading somewhere and your brain is not engaged with any other priorities, try running a narrative of what you see around you, and yourself, in third person. This is a simple storytelling technique I used to do while I travelled or crossed the street.
The idea is to convert an experience as simple as being outside on the street, fetching grocery or crossing the road into words. This is an exercise of narration that I have found useful when I sit down to write. Doing this enables you to convert experiences and actions into narratives. And of course, have fun, tweak with interesting expressions and if you want to, write them down. There is a great possibility of coming across something insightful as you adapt the surroundings and the imagination into words.
I am not a fan of gossips and hearsay and not fond of propagating them. But once in a while, eavesdrop. Listen in on conversations. Not to poke your nose into other people's business - nope, that is not acceptable - but, to get a hang of people around you, the world and its problems. Listening in on people around you is a good way to develop your folder of conflicts. Potential story conflicts can unravel from random conversations you heard in passing.
4. Work on Empathy
Empathy is what makes sympathy and kindness possible. This world is wrought with unpleasant news and moments every day. A lot of people are in trouble. A true writer is disturbed by the troubles around him or her. Writers are generally responsive and quite reactive. And this turmoil in our mind can be addressed with words. So work on boosting your empathy.
Be ready to understand others. Be ready to put yourself in their shoes. In writing, you are going to have to do that a lot, because our own life and situations are very limiting to write more than a couple of books, if any. Stories are derived from the world around us and they may or may not include us. But what makes it our experience is empathy.
Empathize with those who are hurting and having a tough time. Empathize with characters from the books you read. Analyze the emotions behind suffering. Every good story has some amount of pathos. And to experience another person's pleasure and pain is indispensable to a writer because we are hundreds, if not thousands, of persons melded into one.
5. Reproduce an event or observation in words, objectively and subjectively
A huge part of a writer’s job is contributing one’s own thoughts, observations and experiences to his or her characters. Use your different points of view to construct different characters. Put them in strife that you have only heard of or come across when you were listening in and then give them solutions that you would make if you were in their place. Sew in your beliefs and understandings into fictitious worlds when you develop a plot.
Recreate a situation you came across or heard of, objectively and subjectively. This writing exercise helps you build narrative skills. Write about someone you met on the bus or train, describe their attributes that piqued your attention. Develop a dialogue from a short conversation you had or overheard.
The more you look around and put into words, the easier writing becomes. Process what you experience into words. When you read books, write reviews to delve into them deeper. Reading is an exercise and experience in itself. You learn the craft while you experience the story and imagine the events in your mind. And talking about it in writing is an introspective and exploratory activity.
To Wind Up
This is a topic that can at once be written endlessly and yet be stopped, leaving the rest to your exploration.
What are your thoughts on writing based on real life experiences and true events and writing that is extracted from the world through imagination?
As a reader, what do you prefer to read - real life stories or fiction?
Which do you think is more difficult? Are true life experiences necessary to write fiction?
Let me know in comments. Adieu until the next blog post!
A blog on the art of writing and life as a writer.