June 16, 2010

On experience: Are writers interesting people to begin with?

I'm getting to a point where someone will invite me to do something, or go somewhere unusual and my first thought is "why not, it'll make a good story"/"It might inspire me". I'm catching myself thinking this more and more, and it's a reason that is slowly creeping up my list of priorities like ivy on a ruined house.

Writers seem to live very passionate, dramatic and interesting existences. Reading the Diaries of Anaïs Nin, the Tropics of Henry Miller or even notes of Hemingway's Parisian days makes me long for such an exotic and bohemian life. I feel it is almost a pre-requisite to be an interesting person if you want to be a writer. At the risk of sounding conceited, I'm not "boring": I grew up in England and Hungary; living the expat lifestyle since turning 20, first in Germany and now Spain. I've done my own share of unusual things from working in various physics laboratories including CERN; to lacing mezzo-sopranos up in corsets backstage at the opera. Saying that, I know a lot of people with far more interesting and glamourous lifestyles than myself, so I don't feel extraordinary.

But I do find myself saying "yes" to more things these days than before. Trying to find inspiration is hard, and there is the big ol' cliché of "Write what you know", which kinda puts a dampener on the aspiring writer with an uneventful life (a stupid cliché, considering the current popularity in fantasy, horror and sci-fi genres).  It's hard to pull a story out of thin air; in my case it's either long and complex with five million subplots or it's been done. For short stories, which are so vital to me  in teaching myself to edit, 90% of what I write about is basically a fictionalised autobiography. Even when I write a story, which is fiction, purely fiction, I find myself drawing from experiences I've had and places I've been to and really, my fiction is just my sub-conscious vomited onto the page in the form of a plot.

Is experience a valid form of research? Certainly it is, you can read about the Acropolis till the cows come home, and you might even be able to write successfully about it. But it doesn't beat going to Athens and walking the steps of the Parthenon, sitting down and feeling that hot marble soften the muscles in your back with the background noise of multilingual tourists and locals, breathing the contaminated air of Athenian pollution. You can get facts from research, but experience gives you all the sensual little details that helps a piece of fiction take life.

Every experience is of value, but sometimes we can pick and choose from the places, people and things in our life and use our imagination to write something fictional. Yet, I feel there is an invisible bank or portfolio where I can put the more interesting things from my life into and draw from them when writing. I want a heavy bank account to draw from so I'm greedy and take everything which comes (within reason...) which I could eventually use. The question is, are writers interesting because they are writers or writers because they are interesting? I think writing injects the curiosity, but it's up to the writer to do the rest.

1 comment:

teafortwo said...

I don't know that writers are so interesting, just perceptive. Sometimes I find a trip to the grocery store more exciting than a trip to New York City. Everyone writes about their experience on some vacation...