Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Turning experiences into fiction

I honestly thought in college that I’d get published in my free time (it’s fine to laugh here). If I could go back eight years ago, I’d pat myself on the head, oh sweet twenty-year-old-Alexis, how much you will be learning, and the hard way too! 

Cut to that moment I decided to write 'for reals' – I did do it in my free time, but had to ditch other things in order to have said ‘free time.’ Isn't that the complaint, always – the hardest part about having a passion that doesn't get the privilege of consuming your entire day is that it cuts into your nights and weekends and mornings. And you gladly let it, learning to shrug when people don’t understand why you’re scheduling your life around this writing-thing, call you unsocial – we never see you anymore and are you getting enough sleep – which you aren't but if you’re going to write and go to the gym and have dinner with your boyfriend, something’s got to give (though let’s be real, often it’s the gym).

But I was also kind of careful about giving up having a life, because in order to write fiction you actually have to live a little. You have to have real experiences to pull from (this is where being twenty and clueless really paid off). Really, writing fiction seems to be a honed ability to write from the experience but not of the experience.

I didn't understand this when I was twenty either. I’d try to write something I’d experienced and wonder why it was void of all the colors, intensity, infinity, of which the actual experience contained. I hadn't learned how to manipulate the *stuff* of experiences and turn them into something else that would make sense for fiction. I think I learned to do this only when I started to tell myself that extreme exaggeration wasn't the same as lying, and then learned that it definitely was lying, but lying is allowed in fiction as long as it proves a point.

How do you manipulate experiences? How did you learn to do it? 


  1. I love this post. After a couple years of basically abandoning a life in favor of writing time, I've been working on getting my butt out of my chair more this year. And somehow it's helping me writer better, richer material when I do have the time.

  2. "I write only because there is a voice in me that will not be still." -Sylvia Plath
    Balancing the inner need to write with the rest of my life is a constant tug-of-war. I have five children, ages 2-12, and their needs often, of necessity, pull me out of the worlds in my head. I didn't write as much (okay, obsessively) when I was younger, and I've wondered, "Why didn't I discover this before I had kids, when making the time would have been easier?" But my children, my husband, the accumulated experiences make my life deeper... and makes my writing deeper, too.

  3. This is such a great post. I'm lucky I have to travel for my 'day job'. Not only do I have nothing else to do but read and write in an airport, airplane, hotel room. But I find I get the best real experiences in an airport haha.