It seems like writers are encouraged to do three things: Apply bottom to chair, write regularly, and read a lot. This is great advice, and I encourage writers to do all three.
But there are a lot of other things a person can do to become a stronger, more interesting writer. One of those is to say yes to new experiences.
I got this advice in a session at the first writing conference I ever went to. The presenter appeared to be heading into middle age—did not look like much of a risk taker—and she was saying we as writers should say yes to new experiences.
She talked about how it would make us stronger writers because the more experiences we had, the more we could draw from in our writing. It made so much sense to me. I thought, Yeah, the more senses I tap into, the more memories I form, the more conversations I have, the more places I visit, the more I can write about.
To give us an example from her life, she said in all those years she had never been water skiing, but was finally given the opportunity and decided to give it a try.
It’s funny she used that example, because for a lot of people, that would not be a crazy-new experience, but for me, it was. I’d never been water skiing, either. Something about it terrified me, too; it seemed like complete lack of control—like a carnival ride with no rails or safety harness.
I listened closely as she described her experience: the sensation of the water spraying her face, of flying across the surface of the lake. It sounded so appealing—and she’d already convinced me that new experiences would give me more material for my writing. I decided if I were given the opportunity to try something like that, I’d say yes.
Not too long after, I was indeed given the opportunity to go water skiing. And because of her advice, I said yes. I got a quick explanation from my friend who would be driving the boat, and lots of other friends stood on the shore bearing witness to my “yes.”
They watched as I took hold of the handle, the boat took off, I started to ski just a little bit, and then…I had the most spectacular wipeout ever, at least according to my friends. They said they’d never seen such a thing: I toppled head over heel, and one of the skis popped off my foot and flew through the air and somehow flipped around so the tip jabbed me in the hip, gouging deep.
It happened in slow-motion for me. Stunned, I swam back to the shore, stood up, walked out of the water. My friends were all describing the event, gesturing wildly to reenact the flipping. I couldn’t even speak. I walked back to the house where we were staying and just sat for a while. Alone. Trying to settle my discombobulated, disoriented self.
And I thought, Is this what that writer meant when she said we needed new experiences? ‘Cause I sure did get a new set of sensations.
Yes. I mean, maybe that’s not what she meant, but yes, I could use that.
I tapped into more senses, formed more memories, and had more to write about. I thought I would be writing about the joy of zooming across the water’s surface, but instead, if I can recreate the crazy, topsy-turvy scene in a short story or essay (or podcast), I’ve got material.
So I think she’s right. Go ahead and take the trip, try the zip line, explore the cave, hike that mountain, tour that museum, visit that distant relative. And if you’ve never gone water skiing, I think you should say yes. At least once.
Because even if an experience doesn’t turn out quite the way you imagined or expected, you’ll have more to write about when you take that other advice: to apply bottom to chair, and write.
Go ahead and say yes to that new experience. Regardless of the outcome, your life is going to be richer, and so will your writing.
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