You Will Be A Better Writer If You Live First

Finding your voice through the profundity (and mundanity) of experience

Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

“Most people love you for who you pretend to be. To keep their love, you keep pretending — performing. You get to love your pretense.”

I’ve found a way, nonetheless, to write my truth, in all its messiness, and without pretense, which has been tricky, to say the least. Because how can you succeed as a writer in a world that simultaneously says “give us authenticity and raw emotion but also give us polished according to some arbitrary standards?” The shortest answer I can give is the often misattributed quote, “write drunk, edit sober.” Not everyone lives by that rule, however (Hemingway actually refused to write drunk), and honestly, editing the stuff drunk you wrote is often more trouble than it’s worth. So here is a longer, more complex answer, that will take a little more explanation: live life.

Life is full of stories yearning to be told

A good story can take many forms. I have the utmost respect and a great deal of envy for talented fiction writers. After having sat down several times to write a fictional novel and quitting as many times in frustration, I decided it was not my thing, at least not at this point in life.

Living is not the same thing as existing

This rather cheesy adage has some deep truth to it, for me at least. What I said above will not just magically happen if you don’t sink your teeth into life and be ready to feel it all. Good stories come from people who have taken risks, failed miserably, had their lives turned upside down, loved fiercely, and maybe even stared down their own death on one more more occasions.

You cannot write your life if you do not see it as a worthy of living to the fullest.

Good stories also come from being able to appreciate the magnitude of all the experiences situated between those massively life-altering moments. Like the time I sat with my infant son and took pictures of him, just moments before CPS unexpectedly showed up at my door and began a completely unnecessary and invasive investigation into my family. That story remains immensely painful and writing it was actually a form of therapy for me. Writing trauma can be helpful to the person who experienced the particular trauma, but it can also help others who might not have the courage to tell their own story just yet. Others’ stories can build us up, give us strength to form our own narrative, and find a path to healing.

Everything counts

I end with this simple idea: it’s all important. Every watershed decision, the all-encompassing grief of loss, every quiet moment of self-reflection, each stubbed toe, and every seemingly inconsequential piece of cake shared with a close friend. These are all stories to be told within the greater narrative of your life and within the story of life itself.

Constant collisions between the personal and political. Professor. Adoptee. Advocate. Activist. I write about dogs a lot.

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