I was given a t-shirt as a gift a few years ago, and whenever I wear it people laugh at the phrase printed on the front. Some people laugh nervously. Others laugh in understanding. Still others ask me what it means, and if I would really do that. (The answer is, of course, always “yes.”)
What’s the phrase?
I usually add, “likely eaten by werewolves.”
If they haven’t annoyed me, they might make it in as a vampire or someone I don’t kill off.
In that awesome movie A Knight’s Tale with Heath Ledger (shut up, I like it, I don’t care if it’s historically this or that THEY JOUST TO QUEEN, OKAY?), they stumble across the writer Chaucer (yes, Geoffrey Chaucer), played by the unparalleled Paul Bettany. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen the film (GO NOW AND ALTER THIS CONDITION!), but there comes a part where Chaucer is telling off a couple of douchebags. One of his choice phrases is the title of this blog post – “I will eviscerate you in fiction!”
Think on that, writers. Think of the power we wield. There’s that old saying, “the pen is mightier than the sword.” (“It’s not a product, Mr. Connery!“) Now think of everyone who has ever wronged you, broken your heart (for those of you that have them), annoyed you, pissed you off, or done the complete opposite and made your day/year/life.
It’s often been said to “write what you know,” and that’s all well and good if you actually know some shit. I take this colloquialism and tinker with it a bit and say “write what you experience.”
“But Dina,” I hear you say. “I don’t have any experiences! I never go anywhere! I haven’t ever left my hometown! I don’t even put on pants unless I have to!”
Say that again, writer.
SAY THAT AGAIN.
Now, listen to what you just said. You said, “I never go anywhere. I haven’t ever left my hometown. I don’t even put on pants unless I have to.”
You see those there? All of that? There are three sentences right there full of experience. You can make a whole story out of those three sentences right there. Here, I’ll help you get started (Disclaimer – if you get a book deal based on this writing exercise starter here, I am entitled to 5% of your earnings.):
Why do you never go anywhere?
Why have you never left your hometown?
Why don’t you put on pants unless you have to?
See? Even though you think you have no experiences, you do.
It may sound trite, and even stupid, but you can’t be alive and not experience anything. Even if you’re a complete shut-in/agoraphobic, you have experiences. You might not think of them as experiences, but they are. Sure, getting junk mail isn’t all that exciting of an experience, but it’s something that happens to you. Talking to a telemarketer or election representative on the phone isn’t all that glamorous, but it’s an experience. Collecting stamps isn’t action-packed, but it’s an experience. Even if you have no contact at all with the outside world (you’re so totally lying about that, too, because you’re reading this blog post, and I hate to break it to you, but the Internet is the “outside world”), that’s an experience unto itself.
Think of all the things in your day that you take for absolute granted that are experiences. Here, I’ll list a few and their possible experiential aspects:
Taking a shower – you slip, the drain is plugged, there’s no hot water, shampoo gets in your eyes
Making a cup of your morning beverage (TEA, DAMN IT!) – it’s too hot, too cold, the machine is broken, your teabag rips, the cup breaks, the cat drinks your tea (true story), there are spiders living in the box of tea (also a true story – don’t ask)
Doing the dishes – you cut your hand on a utensil, the water sloshes over the sink and drenches your shirt, the dishwasher quits or leaks, the garbage disposal won’t run or won’t shut off or grinds a ring of yours into bits
You see? Three things I’ve listed there and you haven’t even left the house! Rude cashiers, idiot drivers, the parcel delivery truck broken down on your street…all these things are experiences. Things don’t have to happen to you, personally, to be experienced. You experienced them through other means, such as observation, research, or just plain empathy (ew). Sure, there are many things that you have to personally experience to get the full effect (skydiving, for example – you’ll never be able to accurately describe what it feels like to jump out of a perfectly good airplane unless you do it yourself), but there are a whole host of things you can write about that don’t require anything more than asking questions.
Why was that cashier (or customer) rude? Who pissed in their Cheerios?
Why is that guy weaving all over the road? Is he drunk or is he reaching for something in the passenger seat?
Who the hell works for an election call center and why do they always call at dinner?
Why is that guy limping?
Why doesn’t the city mow that lot?
Who lives in that house?
What are those two arguing about?
Why does my neighbor insist on revving the engine of his stupid fucking dirtbike fifteen times before putting it back in the garage? (True story. Also useless, because revving the engine at neutral in his driveway like he does doesn’t do anything but ruin the combustion and annoy everyone. No, it does not make you look cool.)
There are aspects of our lives that make it into our writing whether we’re aware of it or not. All my characters have certain traits because of my experiences. If I could get away with it, I would name all the assholes in my writing after a particular douchebag in my past. (People insist on different names because readability or something, I don’t know…. Maybe I just write a lot of douchebags.)
So, you see? Everyday living is full of experiences. It’s up to you to make them into an interesting story. Granted, your daily life might not seem all that glamorous, but you don’t need flash and excitement in your own life to make a good story. Let other people deal with the zombies – you just write about them.
That streetlamp outside your house that isn’t lit…was that a 1967 black Impala that just drove by…?
Chronicler of the Paranormal. Tea junkie. Vaderphile. Knitter of DOOM. Mostly evil. Mostly.