Write Bytes

As a writer, I tend to have other writers as friends and we often share our work, usually still in draft form, with each other for feedback. This provides a unique view into the writing process that helps us grow as writers. In every piece a friend gives me to read, I can pretty much always find that friend buried somewhere the words in some way, big or small. It gives me the chance to crawl inside my friends’ minds and see how they approach their stories and what little bits of themselves they use to flavor the details.

To the casual reader, these personal nuggets are merely character or scene building elements that enrich the story and the writer goes unnoticed. To me, they are proof that as writers, we must put ourselves and our experiences into our work to really take our readers with us where we want them to go. It’s these little pieces of ourselves that flesh out our writing and add a special dimension that only we can share.

Over the years, the most valuable writing advice teachers and mentors offered me has, in different ways, said this very thing. In his master class for lyricists, Marty Panzer tells his students, “Always put you in your work.” In the end, it’s the “you” that truly separates your work from everyone else’s and makes it unique. It’s your experiences, opinions and emotions that provide a playground for your creativity and breathe life into your words.

This doesn’t mean you’re limited to writing only about things you have personally experienced. It means accessing similar emotions. It means taking what you’ve experienced and relating it to the topics you want to write about. As Arthur Hamilton succinctly described, “Go there.” Let yourself remember a time when you felt what you’re writing about, whether the actual incident is the same or not.

For example, you may never become a parent but when writing from a parent’s perspective, you can draw upon feelings you had when you took care of a sibling or a pet or friend, feelings of responsibility and love or frustration, etc. If you’re writing about loss, think about things you’ve lost in your life and the pain and anger it caused. All those feelings will help you identify with your characters and make their words and actions three-dimensional instead of flat.

In order for your readers to care about your characters, you have to care about them first. You have to understand them and their needs. You have to know where they come from and where they want to go. You have to feel what they feel. But…you can’t do that unless you have something of yourself to offer that character, something that’s seen only through the lens of your knowledge. You have to be willing to risk exposing your own emotions, your hurts, your embarrassments, your successes in order to make your characters real.

Some beginning writers take offense when a reviewer tells them they can’t write about something they don’t know. These writers feel hampered by a rule they believe to be arbitrary but they’re not looking at the big picture to understand the purpose behind the so-called “rule” of writing.

The truth is no one can write about something if they’ve never been exposed to it on some level. You can’t talk about a topic you don’t even know exists. It’s the good craftsman who can take a foreign subject they’ve only read or heard about and apply their real-life experiences to it to make a reader believe their words. It’s not literally to write about your life and only your life. The trick is taking what is real, what is pertinent, what is you and applying some aspects of that to your work. You’re the only one who can figure out how much of you to put in the story but I guarantee the more you appear, the more interesting and full your stories will become.

This article also appears on Helium.com.

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