This is Part 1 of a series I’m calling From the Journal of an Insecure Writer
We hear it about it all the time. Someone goes on a life-changing vacation, writes a book about it, gets big. Someone manages to dig themselves out of a rock-bottom heroin addiction, writes a book about it, gets big. Someone was a street/foster/bullied/suicidal teenager, writes a book about it, gets big.
Few will argue that great art comes from straight out of life. The greatest works of art are the cries that yearn from our real souls, our real sorrows, our real joys. A work of literature inspired by real life events, told by a person who lived in the actual circumstances, is always going to be more striking and more tearing than something completely fictional.
But what about the rest of us mild-mannered, average folks? Are we doomed to be uninteresting writers with uninteresting stories because we’ve led uninteresting, boring lives that aren’t rife enough with drama?
I lead a relatively quiet life low on surprises, drama, and chaos. Except for the occasional spat about some trivial thing, our family is not known for its drama and conflict. We also never moved. In fact, apart from moving from central Canada to the west coast when I was too young to remember, I’ve lived in the same house for 17 years. My parents are the most unadventurous by-the-book “safety first” type of people. I mean, they only ever go on booked tours, and squeamishly shy away from any destination more exotic than North America.
I know, I know, a lot of people would kill to have a stable childhood like mine, but honestly, I would’ve liked just a teensy bit of excitement.
Although I still struggle to find real-life inspiration, I’ve used three tactics that have helped me tremendously so far:
Imagination is something we all share, and imagination is something bored people are especially good at (yay us!). It’s simple. If life isn’t interesting enough, make something up that is. However, to make your fantasies believable, I recommend doing some real research.
If you want to write a book about talking wolves, imagine away, but do a little research on wolf biology, wolf behaviour, real wolf stuff. If you want to write a book about kids with cool kung-fu moves who go on an epic journey to find the Elixir of Immortality, make the Legend of the Elixir of Immortality as imaginative as you want, but do some research on what kung-fu really is. The trick is to make your fantasy, however fantastic, believable by the reader.
2. Find the hidden chaos
This is the volta of this blog post. You might think your life is boring, but IS it?
Take a look around. You know that friend who has been ranting about the love triangle he’s in? Maybe there’s a story there. How about that friend who’s struggling to come out to her super-conservative religious parents? Maybe there’s a story there too.
I’m not telling you to nosily dive into other people’s lives and steal their stories, but if you pay attention, there might be elements in the daily conversations you have with people in your life that are usable as inspiration. I, for one, get really angry when a female friend talks to me about their overly-controlling patriarchal father. Although I will never use the exact same story experienced by my friend because I care about them, I can FOR SURE see a story that can be extracted, and one I can be passionate about writing.
And I’m not just talking about living vicariously through your friends. Your own life may be more interesting than you think. Often times only outsiders can see the chaos within. Who knows, maybe a ton of families think my stable, boring, by-the-book family is hella weird.
3. Use your intrinsic humanity
Everyone has struggles. Everyone has joys. No matter how bland of a lifestyle you lead, you have your dark days and your manically happy days.
As a kid adults often came to me and said, “You must be such a happy kid. You have such a great family. You’re so loved.” And I would smile and agree. But honestly, I had struggles too, some of which are still around, some of which will never go away, some of which are quite deeply-rooted and haunting. And once in a while, when it’s late, and my wonderful friends and family are asleep, these things are all that’s left. And the only way to get rid of them is write about them. Somehow.
I won’t leave you with that horrid image, though (trust me, I’m fine! :D). I just want you to know that you’re not “too boring” to be a writer. Nobody’s boring. People are just too lazy too look.
And to spice up the mood, here’s a picture of a kitten with her duck friends.