How to Become a Better Writer: Live to Write

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
~ Henry David Thoreau

 

Inexperience is ambitious and time and again, we need to remind inexperienced writers to write about things they know. No matter what genre you write in, the essence of everything you write is based on life. Whether it is an observation of human behavior or a moving description of a place or an event, you cannot write about it from mere observation as well as you can from living the experience. That’s not to say you can’t live or experience things vicariously. A skillful writer might be able to convince readers that they know what they are writing about intimately. It’s similar to a thespian or film actor assuming a character they are not. We know the best actors often immerse themselves in real life situations, studying real people, trying out their characters’ lives when possible, doing what their characters did to replicate the experience, attitude, behavior, feelings, and reactions as realistically as possible. It’s the difference between the beginning of film when everything was filmed inside a studio and you could tell actors were faking the experience and movies today, when you have an actor like Leonardo diCaprio spending days in sub-zero Canadian weather and actually jumping into freezing Canadian waters (despite not being Polar Bear dipping time) to achieve his award-winning portrayal of a revenant in the 2015 film of that title. It’s why a writer who hasn’t experienced any gut-wrenching events will have a harder time convincing readers of the truth of pain, suffering, love, ecstasy, betrayal, and other powerful emotions they’ve never felt. It’s why writers need to experience life in all its diversity and uncertainty, because it’s the only way they can create characters readers will identify with. Settings can easily be recreated, even if you haven’t been to the place, and the ubiquitousness of videos online showing places, people, and events in every imaginable location around the world helps provide writers with fuel for the imagination and for their descriptions. It’s what runs inside people’s heads and hearts that is harder to describe. In fact, even if you have experienced something first-hand, you might not be able to find the words to describe the feelings that rush through you. That is where the writer’s skill and talent comes. Writers are able to find the words to describe the complex emotions that the average person finds indescribable. More skilled wordsmiths find dozens of ways to describe those emotions, besides having a hefty vocabulary, without sounding dogmatic or condescending. The ability to manipulate language to express myriad emotions and experiences, then draw readers into their little worlds and want to be with their characters, is what makes some writers rise above others. That mastery of language and writing comes with much practice—something most young or inexperienced writers will not have. Not that I’m advocating trying out every single thing just so you can write about, even if we know how some writers were brilliant because of mind-enhancing substances. All you need is to keep an open mind, be a keen and avid observer of details, and write, write, write. The sooner you begin, the longer your writing career.

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