In this day and age where there is pressure for an author to churn out lots of books, I’ve stepped back and realized that when we as writers forget to live—to take those walks, to eat dinner with our families, to spend a half hour in quiet thoughts—we lose the very substance which we write about.
A favorite children’s book of mine is Frederick. In this book, while all the other mice are gathering supplies for winter, Frederick is sitting on a rock and enjoying the sunshine. Or he’s feeling the rain fall on his face. He’s sniffing the flowers and eating a strawberry.
The mice complain, but Frederick just smiles. What they don’t realize is he’s experiencing life. When winter comes and it grows cold and dark, Frederick steps forward and begins to tell them stories of summer. He reminds them what it felt like to feel the sunshine on their faces. He reminds them of the scent of a flower, or the feel of rain. He describes a fresh strawberry so vividly they can almost taste it.
That is what we do as writers. We experience life, then write stories to remind others of life.
A couple weeks ago I was in Chicago with my family. As we walked between the skyscrapers, I talked to my daughter (a budding writer) and asked her to describe the city for me. I had her listen to the sounds of Chicago, the smells, the sights, even the feel (Chicago can be bitterly cold and windy). I told her to remember this as an experience to draw upon if she ever wrote a scene within a big city.
Last month I was up in Michigan. I spent an hour walking around a lake, taking in the feel of the gentle rain falling, smelling the wet soil, listening to the different birds and sounds of the lake, and watching swallows dive for food along the water’s surface. I filed these away to use someday to describe a rainy day on a lake.
But these experiences are not just tied to places. A writer should also study emotions. I remember filing away how it felt the day my dog died, so I could accurately describe grief over death. Or the desperation and depression I felt the year my husband was without work. And what hope felt like when we found a job and a home.
Some life experiences are small and simple: conversations around a dinner table, a walk around the neighborhood at night, how good it feels to finish mowing the grass as I drain a large glass of lemonade.
If a writer spends every day, all day, sitting at a computer writing stories, then slowly they lose touch with the real world, and the substance that would feed their story fades. It is not a bad thing to write lots of books (many times I wish I was a faster writer), but there is something to be said about living and experiencing life, then bringing that life into your story.