Few, if any, writers have practiced the craft of storytelling their entire lives.
Sure, almost all of us have written since we first learned how, but few saw this expression as anything more than personal amusement or a passing phase. And when we completed our last essay in high school or college, most put the quill aside for more socially acceptable vocations.
In my case, it was a life in Science, getting first a degree in zoology and then a degree in molecular biology. Others went to law school or into medicine. Yet others worked a production line or took up a trade.
In any event, we all largely dismissed writing from our lives or at best, saw it as a hobby on par with doodling.
And yet, despite putting our pens away and mothballing our creative tendencies, these years were not lost. Quite to the contrary, these years have been invaluable to making you the writer and storyteller that you are today.
Friends will sometimes ask me to speak to their adolescent and college-aged children who have expressed an interest in writing. They want their offspring to understand both the opportunities and challenges of the lives they desire. And I am happy to oblige.
Where the kids are willing to share with me, I listen to their interests and goals, offering insights where I can. But in almost every conversation, my ultimate piece of advice is the same.
Live a life and experience your world.
This is not to say you should give up on your writing, even for a brief period. Dear god, no.
Write. Write. And keep writing.
My point is more that your writing will be so much deeper, richer and more meaningful when you have life experience under your belt. Your greatest asset as a writer is the time you’ve spent interacting with your world, even when only as an observer.
Life exposes you to the amazing diversity of people and perspectives that populate this planet.
Life teaches you about human interaction, in terms of both relationships and conflict.
Life unveils the subtleties and nuances in communication, and the insane power of silence and subtext.
Life is how you instinctively know what to write next. How your character will respond to an event or statement. Why your stories will resonate with others who have similarly lived lives.
And because my life has been different from yours—at least in the minutiae—we will write different takes on a story even when given the exact same starting material.
As you can imagine, the advice is not always welcomed. Life can feel like a delay to the gratification of self-expression.
And yet, not only is it not a delay, a life lived is the embodiment of the self in self-expression.
Your life lived is your truth, and good storytelling (even fictional) is about truth.
To improve your storytelling skills, check out:
So, What’s Your Story? (web site)
So, What’s Your Story? (Facebook)