Friday, August 6, 2010

Writing vs. Life

“I love Munich, and I love being in cities with lots of other people because I’m reminded that there are billions of people like me and we are each stuck inside of our minds feverishly trying to crawl out to make connections with other people.” - John Green

My creative writing teacher from last semester recently posted on his blog that he "let life get in the way of writing."

Well, okay.

My thoughts on that are this: How is that possible?

In my mind, writing and life are inexorably intertwined. Even if I'm not actively writing or planning a story or poem or whatever, everything that happens to me has an effect on my writing. 

Here's what YA author Maureen Johnson had to say about it in her post on MFAs:

"The best material and the best method comes from life, life outside of the routine of college. Sure, stuff can happen to you in college—really weird and crazy stuff. But you’d be amazed just how SIMILAR a lot of that weird and crazy stuff is, how a lot of people will have the same stories.

Here’s a little story about ME . . .
“Great!” you may say. “That’s means people will LIKE my story because it will remind them of their own experiences!”
It doesn’t work that way. The key is PERSPECTIVE. You need experience and time to figure out how to frame those events, to realize what they mean in the long run. Plus, you just need MORE STUFF to happen to you outside of the confines of a campus. You need to struggle and have heartache and have to search for a job and a place to live and make important decisions.
The people I saw who really excelled in the MFA program were people who had been out of school at least for a few years. Pretty much all of these people had had jobs. And some people had come from very different fields of study. The difference in the writing was incredible. I mean, even if you are writing about vampires or werewombats . . . you still need to instill your story with an underlying BIG TRUTH about love or loss. Maybe you want to write about a girl who moves to New York to make it big! Awesome! What do you know about that? Have you tried to move to a place and make it big? Have you ever moved anywhere on your own? It’s experience and perspective that give stories depth.
Frankly, I don’t push MFAs on people at all. I did one, and I’m glad, but I don’t think it is what made me. And when I look around at all of my writer friends, I’m the ONLY one (that I can think of) with an MFA. They all had various kinds of experiences. John Green was a hospital chaplain. Ally Carter was an agricultural economist. David Leviathan still is an editor/publisher. Justine Larbalestier has a PhD in semiotics. Scott Westerfeld designed software. Robin Wasserman did her graduate work in scientific history. Cassie Clare worked for the National Enquirer. Meg Cabot ran a dormitory. The list goes on and on.
I had loads of jobs. I was a waitress in a theme restaurant, I traveled around the country with a media company, I worked in theater, I worked with tigers and weirdos and directors who made everyone take off their pants for rehearsal, for management consultants who used incomprehensible jargon . . . and I wrote. I used a lot of what I saw. I used crazy customers. I used the worry of not being able to make the rent. I used the psychology I learned from waiting tables. I used the struggle and loss and uncertainty and excitement and wisdom . . . all from things that happened to me after I left the security of a campus and moved to a city and made it on my own.


You're supposed to "write what you know." If all you know is what you've read, and what you've written, all of your stuff will end up sounding like other people's books, and very similar to your own. So I don't think you should spend all of your time reading and writing. Both are great, and both are necessary, but there needs to be more.

This, I believe, is part of the reason the first version of Ishaera was so terrible. All I knew was other media I'd consumed. Now I'm older, and I've had more experiences, and I've read considerably more, so even when stuff combines, you can't tell because so much other stuff has been mixed in.

So this is why I don't feel bad that I haven't written anything in...a month? (I've written a song. That's about it.) I mean, I do feel a little bad (what with the "write every day" maxim that's repeated so much), but it doesn't bother me too much. I am living, and living is what is important. Both to my writing and to me.

The End. (See? I'm way out of practice. lol)


  1. I agree! Living gives one something to write about.

  2. do you include your blog writing as writing? maybe not creative but it is a form of writing because you know you are writing for public consumption, whether you know if anyone reads it or not (the life of a blogger).

    very good post and i love the author's sentiment about the degrees. nowadays, it seems the crux of any person in a role is dependent on a degree. personally, i appreciate someone who has a degree in one thing but works in another area, mostly using that education as part of their position. that's where i am in my job today.

    i think about going back to school though. the possibilities of what do i go back for go through my head. probably not an MFA but as an adult, i found a new appreciation for literature that i never really had before.

    btw, i'll be at QRB to see you all at the end of this month! hope you can make it.

  3. I suppose I should, but I don't. This is just me rambling about stuff I find interesting. It doesn't feel as "proper" or "real" as a story or poem, even though it really is more so, as it's free for anyone to read it (not just people at QRB).

  4. The Write-What-You-Know thing is pretty loose, I think. I can know the streets of [my hometown], but certain things I *have* to read to know about, such as ancient history or fictional beings. I try to balance out my "artistic" life with my "other" life (and need to improve there), but as Gail Carson Levine says, "The best way to write better is to write more." I should have written more and daydreamed less when I was ten, eleven, twelve. It's normal for anyone's raw draft to be horrible. "Frog shit", you know?

    And I forget, what's an MFA?


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