“I’ll Try Anything Once…”

Margaret Atwood signing my copy of Maddaddam

Margaret Atwood signing my copy of Maddaddam

I’ve been distant again. Striking a balance between work, writing, blogging and living is quite difficult with my new role. I’m working on that but I’ve got a few posts lined up over the coming weeks so keep an eye out for those.

Today, however, I want to share a special experience with you all. I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of my favourite writers in my relatively short life – and I hope there are many more meetings to come in the future – but last Sunday (27th September 2015) I got to meet one of my all-time favourites.

And that, ladies and gents, is the fantastic Margaret Atwood.

What’s with the cliché?

It’s true, I used one. I don’t use them often in my writing, though I do have a love of puns and ironic clichés when I’m out and about.

How many time shave you heard someone say ‘I’ll try anything once’ but then the next chance to do something new they turn it down? Probably a fair few times. I’m guilty of it too, but I’m trying not to be – unless there’s a damned good reason.

This phrase, along with a number of others, is seen on motivational pictures, posters, memes, videos etc. That’s fine but how much impact do they really have now? There are so many of them – anyone can make them and share them online. ANYONE.

When it comes from someone you admire and respect, it hits home a little harder – and when said person is Margaret Atwood, who I have a huge amount of respect for and who has done so much, it encourages me to do the same.

Writing from experience

So, what’s all this got to do with writing? Well, other than telling you (without bragging – much) that I got to meet a top author, it’s also quite an important aspect of writing.

Can you write about romance without experiencing it? What about pain, heartbreak, excitement, joy and all the rest? Can you talk about death and the impacts it has on people if you haven’t lost someone?

In short, yes.

You CAN write about it but will it be convincing? Will your readers see through the bullshit or can they connect with it, empathise with the characters and situation and will they be moved by your words?

I’ve always believed you can’t write about what you don’t understand, and that’s why I try to do as much as possible, learn as much as I can and never stop growing. I’m not saying use real life examples but really stop and think about the emotions you’re trying to convey, the tension you’re building, and let your experiences guide you – and readers – through it.

You’ll get a much better response. Fiction is often an escape from the real world but think of your favourite characters or moments – how do they make you feel? That’s a good starting point.

Accommodating genres

Now, before you all scream the house down – this does work in genres. So you’re writing a fantasy novel and there’s a huge battle coming up. Sure, you’ve never been in that situation but would your characters be nervous (just an example)? Think to when you’ve been your most nervous and start there. Yes, you need to imagine beyond that but be consistent with it.

Never lost your loved one? Fine, think back to losing anyone – as hard as it is – and start there. Even a pet. Maybe you lost touch with a friend and regret it. There are always better places to start than making it up.

Even in historical fiction, you can find similar situations or occurrences that can give a starting point. If we all wrote the same thing, no one would be interested. That’s part of why writers are valued because it’s their take on something. It can be discussed, compared, thought on and a lot more.

It all comes from a small starting point. That flash of motivation to go further.

A great source of inspiration

Author events are always fascinating for me. Whether it’s a conversation, a Q&A, a signing, panel or anything else – it’s a great insight into another writer’s mind. What I’ve learned so far is that writers are weird.

We’re strange. Our minds wander off on tangents that seem relevant but often aren’t. We also need reigning in a little bit because we can get carried away at times.

This is great though, because you see the passion and love they – we – have for the craft. Sure, we want everyone to read our stories, to enjoy them, talk about them and such but in the end, I reckon we are driven to write.

There’s plenty I’ve done no one will ever see and that’s fine. It’s not all done for other people.

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