I’ve been reading the book IMAGINE: HOW CREATIVITY WORKS by Jonah Lehrer. It’s a fascinating look at how creativity works, even in non-traditionally creative venues. One of the things he discusses is the importance of travel and new experiences to creativity. We often call this “filling the well” and if you ain’t doing it, you’re handicapping yourself and your stories.
Last night, I spent eight hours riding in a cop car. I’ve mentioned here and elsewhere that I’ve been participating in a Citizen’s Police Academy through my city. Part of the program is the opportunity to do a ride along. Now please understand the decision to sign up was not an easy one. A) I’m a writer, not a hero. B) I’m a control freak and the idea of putting myself in a dangerous situation is terrifying. So naturally I had to do it.
I did it because I wanted to know what it’s like. I did it because I want to be able to write convincingly about cops. I did it because I want to be able to describe the adrenaline rush of roaring down the road with sirens blaring to chase down a perp who’s running through a neighborhood. I did it because I was afraid and that means it’s something that needs exploring.
I’ve done lots of things in the service of writing that I never would have had the guts to do otherwise. The desire ot have lot sof experiences to draw from for my fiction is kind of like a passport. Even though I get nervous and doing things out of my comfort zone isn’t always comfortable, I know that ultimately it will benefit both my fiction and my life.
Because guess what–your writing is your life. It’s your life distilled and filtered and morphed and reshaped. If you spend all your time stuck in a high tower and you never speak to real people and you never challenge yourself your fiction will show it.
This is not to diminish the role of imagination in our work. But I’m one of those ridiculous people who thinks a writer can’t live on imagination alone. If you spend all your life with your nose buried in the laptop or the notebook, you’re going to miss the entire ride.
“Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!” –Auntie Mame.
Not for nothing, but there’s no guarantee writing will bring you fame and fortune. If anything, it’s a guarantee of the opposite. So while you’re pursuing this unattainable dream, maybe you should enjoy yourself a little. Go drive fast cars and get into fist fights and kiss someone who’s all wrong for you. Get your heart pumping. Know what it feels like to have your heart broken. Laugh until you pee a little. Talk to people you have nothing in common with and learn something from them. Do something that scares you.
Yes, put your ass in the chair and write. Let your imagination go wild. But every now and then, leave the chair. Leave the house, for chrissakes. Seek adventure. Your stories and your future self will thank you for it.