“Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you wanted. And experience is often the most valuable thing you have to offer.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture
I have decided that I am not equipped to write a story about Ireland.
Now granted, there were no immediate plans to write a story about Ireland. It’s not a setting I’m even a little comfortable with. I know very little of the history, even less of the modern culture, and nothing at all about future plans and politics. I don’t understand what it looks like to live on any side of any town. To be honest, I wouldn’t even be able to write in the accent- I can’t even imitate it.
Writer’s always feel best writing what they know. Even in science fiction, a good writer becomes familiar with their concepts and settings before really breaking down into their characters and plot twists. Without knowledge of the world you write about, there is very little consistency. It’s impossible to put in a place if you have no idea what it looks like or how it operates or what kinds of things could go on there.
And even in completely made up stories with made up worlds, there are always hints of some kind of modern reality- there are human emotions, communities (or lack of communities) built in, and all kinds of other things that allow the reader to dive in next to these figments of the penners imagination.
In order for the reader to really be able to identify, however, the author has got to know what they are talking about.
When my best friend read “The Hunger Games,” series, the first observation she offered was not about the story, but about Suzanne Collins herself. My friend was convinced that Collins had experienced soul gripping, heart wrenching, unexpected loss, all by the way that she wrote the scenes of her main character. It was an assessment that I heard repeated over and over as others got through the books. But they too, were those who had gone through terrible unexpected tragedy, and knew the signs. They identified the character. They knew her accuracy, because she knew what she wrote.
So as a writer, I wouldn’t write about a far away country I don’t know, because anyone who has ever been there or lived that life would know, immediately, I was a fraud. Even if I read up on the country, got to know everything the internet had to offer, it wouldn’t be the same because I’d never been part of it.
Not such a problem with Ireland, really. But as you can imagine, it was much worse when I couldn’t write relationship conflict while trying to finish a short story this weekend.
My short story is a chronicle of a person’s decision to help someone they love despite the fact that it means cutting some of their major ties to them. It’s a little weepy, a lot of girly, and was actually starting to get really fun to write. That is, it was fun until I got to the part where the big fight, the cause of the climax, occurs. And suddenly, I was unsure of how to proceed.
This, of course, led to some serious self reflection. How could I not know conflict? I have conflicts with people on a regular basis. Granted, most of them are surface, basic little things that need to be brought up and brought forward so that corrections can be made by both parties and life can move on. And even the deeper ones are generally anticipated- it’s rare that people get constructively critized if they aren’t willing to listen, so most of the conflict that I actually approach is when both people are ready to talk it out. I admit, I am a bit of an avoider, but for the most part, I’m pretty good at addressing the problems and working towards a solution. So I do know conflict.
I considered that maybe it was the relationship part that was throwing me. But ask any of my exes, and they’ll tell you about some of the worst fights that we had. They’ll tell you that I am, at times, irrational, illogical, stubborn, and a little harsh in wording. (They would tell you this, by the way, because they know me). They’ll tell you about this one time when we argued about something stupid, this one conversation we had that changed things for the better, another that made things worse. My close friends can do the same thing, if you’d rather. So I do know conflict in relationships.
But then- the AHA! moment. I do know these kind of conflicts. I have been part of them. But had I really experienced them? Had I let the true weight of the moment sink from shoulders into my heart? Had I taken the time to memorize the pain and the hardship, as well as the joy in the solution? Or had I blown the whole thing off when it was over, because of the things it made me feel?
I realized I was going to need to really pull out some of those memories if I wanted success here. I was going to have to feel those things again. To remember the really hard things. To feel the same pains that were supposed to go away with the breaks in friendships, in romances. It was in me- I had to pull it out.
So I dug really deep back into my past and brought up some of the moments where I cared most about someone, and needed them to understand my heart when they weren’t expecting it. And I wrote my conflict scene.
It still needs a little work.
But those things I’ve been letting myself feel again have been on my mind. I’m wondering how much of my writing will be better if I let myself in to my soul again. I have all these things I want to put down on paper, but I have to be able to remember what I know .
I think part of growing up is realizing that everything that happens in our lives is a learning moment. Even the worst of mistakes, the saddest, scariest downs of our lives, are preparing us for something, whether it be writing a story, or even repeating a part of our pasts. If we let ourselves in to even the rawest of those emotions, we can use them and find strength in them. If we brush them off, they just follow us around, and we get nothing to show.
So in an effort to be a better writer, I am committed to letting myself be part of what is happening in my life when it’s happening, even if it’s painful. I will give myself the advantage of living the moment so the digging part won’t be so hard in the future, so that future conflict will not need so much work. I will be part of my own feelings even when it really sucks for the moment, because it may help someone else identify with my story later, and maybe, in that identification, not feel alone. And I am committed to making the world a less lonely place, keyboard and mouse in hand.
Oh, and maybe I’ll visit Ireland. You know, just for the experience.