Writers can face an ongoing conflict between their writing and their lives. Life often intrudes upon my writing, but can writing intrude upon life? I recently had a conversation with the mother of a teen daughter who was obsessed with writing. The mother had encouraged her daughter to become involved in more activities at school, in sports, etc. in order to try to balance her daughter’s time living life with writing. I agreed with the mother. If I had done nothing but write since I began in elementary school, I would not have been able to write any of the essays or fiction I’ve written.
The Writer has a monthly column called “Writers on Writing.” In the November 2014 issue, this column spotlights John Freeman, writer, editor, poet and critic. He’s the editor of Granta. He was asked, “What’s the most important thing you’ve learned about writing?” He began his answer by saying it was impossible to separate this question from questions about how to live. This really caught my attention. What does he mean?
Freeman goes on to say “For me, that is the question any good book asks; what does it feel like to be alive, how do we struggle, what is essential, what is felt?”
This quote captures the importance of living life to the fullest as a writer rather than writing all the time. How could a writer write about life if he hasn’t lived life? A writer needs to have experienced what life has to offer, what physical experience feels like — we are all physical in our bodies — and emotional experience. Has he been in love? Has someone ever betrayed him? Has she given birth or made the choice not to have children? Or perhaps she cannot physically have children. What does it feel like to be rejected? To fail? To climb a mountain? Sleep under the stars? Swim in the ocean?
Freeman talks about writers using the senses to capture the physical world for readers, and complains that contemporary writing has moved away from this kind of writing. He credits the effects of technology as the culprit. He said:
“For me to be fully alive and to write well require the same thing. It comes down to a mindfulness which remembers the mind has as much to do with the senses as the wheels upon which it turns.”
How do writers live life? Well, like anyone else. Seek to learn. Seek to experience. Travel. Seek out interesting people and their stories. Have a variety of interests that will bring you a variety of experiences. I am not athletic, but during my life I have participated in many different sports and physical activities. For example, in college I needed to fulfill a physical education requirement, so in addition to learning how to play squash and golf, I signed up for karate class to learn self-defense. Out of my experience with that karate class, I learned that my roommate would cheat on her boyfriend with the karate instructor, and I had the experience years later of using what I learned to defend myself when a man assaulted me. These are life experiences.
For me, it can be a frustrating conflict when life intrudes upon my writing. I have to remind myself that it’s OK. Life may be giving me more experiences or material for my writing…..