Writing Experience

I’ve just spent several days with a group of friends enjoying the French countryside. On Saturday, there was a plan to go  to a ‘Go-Ape’ type place in a local forest, where the idea is to follow a kind of obstacle course – including zip-wires, tight-ropes, wooden logs – suspended between the trees at least twenty feet off the ground. We have one near where I live and I have never been tempted. I was no more tempted in France, so I said I would sit it out (preferably with a cup of tea in hand) while the others got on with it.

However, one of the women talked me into doing it. Her main argument was that she wanted someone as inexperienced as her to go round with. Always having been the last to be picked for anything sporty at school, I felt 14 again and suddenly included in the ‘gang’. Her secondary argument was that as a writer I should be open to all experiences, even ones I am not attracted to. What is there to inspire a writer but experience?

My life has been relatively eventful and varied, however, I am childless by choice, I have not killed anyone, and I experience life as a white woman. Yet in my novel, The Art of the Imperfect (http://goo.gl/z7HFgz) I write about post-natal depression, murder and one of my main characters is a black man. I can only imagine the unknown feelings and responses through extrapolation of my own experiences, plus what I have researched;  through reading, listening and observing. I have to believe at base our common humanity connects us more than it divides us, especially in terms of our emotional terrain.

I think it is highly unlikely I will write about someone completing a ‘Go Ape’ route in the pouring rain. On the other hand, I could now write with some alacrity about fear for physical safety, about being presented with an obstacle which is both psychologically and physically demanding, feeling paralysed and then doing it anyway.

What kept me going was my friends’ encouragement and the thought that the only way to get this over and done with was to keep pushing forward. Putting one foot (word) in front of the other while being scared of falling and public ridicule is perhaps good training for any writer.

I wish I could say there was a moment of enjoyment during the whole experience. There was not. Not until I got to ground level and my friend and I hugged and yelped, ‘We did it!’

Any thoughts, fellow writers, do we have to experience something to write about it?

 

 

 

5 thoughts on “Writing Experience

  1. Mary Burns

    I believe my capacity to have empathy and compassion for others, in turn, enables me to be able to write well about experieces I have not actually had myself. I agree with you , Kate, that our common humanity, connects us, more than it divides us, we have more in common than we sometimes realize.
    At the moment I am doing some writting on the theme of “Home”, looking at what home means to me, what it means to others. It is a very interesting piece of work. I am thankful that I have never been homeless, yet, after speaking with people who are / have been, I am able to write about this, I am able to imagine what it must be like to have had my home repossessed, to be evicted by a ruthless landlord, to be a refugee, forced to leave my home or to be homeless as a result of an earthquake.

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  2. Lani

    Good question. I think it helps. But I’m sure there are great examples of writers who can both write without the experience and those who have/did. Of course, imagination and research can make up the difference, too.

    But back to “it helps” – I just think about when folks can relate to something I have experienced and vice versa, there is something about having that “similar knowing” that really bridges gaps and creates an understanding that wasn’t there before.

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    1. Kate Evans Post author

      Thanks Lani, my worry is that if I write about something I haven’t experienced and my description of it is ‘off’ then that ‘similar knowing’ won’t be there. I know when I read, the ‘similar knowing’ is one of the joys, as well as (on the contrary) the entering into another’s world which I find no similarities with and coming to understand it a bit better.

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      1. Lani

        I know what you mean, it’s all about being pulled in or pulling someone else into the story. And it’s magic when it’s done right 🙂

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