Your Life Is Boring, But You Can Still Write Good Stories

I’ve never really considered myself a “writer” in the conventional sense of the word. I’m a cartoonist. I draw cartoons. I make comics. Part of that process is writing, sure, but the parts I don’t write (or can’t write, depending on your opinion of my work) I just draw. It’s more fun for me that way, and it saves me a lot of time.

Anyway, I tell you all of this because I realize that I’m probably not the most qualified person to give you the advice I’m about to dispense. I don’t think, however, that my lack of “writing chops” makes the following words any less true. So listen up, suckaz!

One of the first things you learn as a creative writer

—whether you were taught in a classroom or from a “Dummies Guide” book – is that you should “write what you know”. This is Creative Writing 101. These are the basics. WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. Pretty obvious, right? I mean,  you wouldn’t want to right about something you don’t know. For starters, you wouldn’t know anything about it! Secondly, you wouldn’t have any passion for the subject. You wouldn’t know the details. You wouldn’t know what to embellish. Without passion, your work will fall flat and it won’t resonate with anyone. This is no-brainer stuff right here and I’m sure that you guys are reading along thinking, “No duh, Wes! You really are a sucky writer!”

But what happens if you’re a boring person? What happens if there’s nothing about your life that is remotely interesting? What are you supposed to write about then?

Honestly, this was a question that I had a very difficult time answering in regards to my own writing. For a couple years right after high school I really struggled with whether or not my life was interesting enough to be written about, and if I was even worthy of calling myself a writer. I grew up in a small town and I still live there. I was a good kid who never got into any trouble, and that personality and lack-of-a-criminal-track-record have continued into my adulthood. I’ve never experienced any major turmoil in my life, and – for the most part – I am a very happy and satisfied man. I’ve never traveled outside of the United States (unless you count the Canadian side of Niagara Falls and Tijuana, Mexico – which I don’t), and all my jobs have been rather typical nine-to-five endeavors. My life is full of “uninterestingness”.

One day, however, I realized that “writing about what you know” doesn’t necessarily mean writing about your experiences (or lack thereof).

Writing about what you know includes writing about your passions and your beliefs and your politics. These are the things that resonate with people! This is the stuff people take away from your story whether they agree with you or not! I’m sure Michael Crichton had a strong interest in dinosaurs and archaeology, but he probably knew he couldn’t write a 300-page book about archaeologists digging up dinosaur bones. That book wouldn’t appeal to very many people. So what does he do? Crichton writes a book about a guy who is struggling with whether or not he wants to be a father, and then he sticks him in an amusement park during a rain storm and forces the character to tap into his paternal instincts in order to keep some kids safe during a dinosaur apocalypse.

Boom. Jurassic Park. A freaking amazing book that is ten times better than the movie.

The reason the book is so good has nothing to do with the dinosaurs (though that obviously helped with book and ticket sales); it has everything to do with the emotions and struggles of the characters because that’s what people identify with. It’s safe to assume the author tapped into his own feelings about fatherhood when he wrote that book, and the result was a best-selling novel and a multi-million-dollar movie franchise.

I realized not long ago that, despite the lack of time I’ve spent outside of my boring town, God has really blessed me with lots of great stuff to write about.

I have great friends and a great family, and I’ve heard lots of stories about their lives and upbringing. I’ve learned to view life through a lens of faith and approach obstacles with humor and grace. Everything I’ve experienced in life is pretty typical stuff (go to school, graduate, get a job, get married, etc.), but these experiences have helped to develop my beliefs and my values and my politics.

All of this has aided my writing and helped me tell the stories I’ve been telling in my comic strips for the past seven or eight years.

So if you’re frustrated with your lackluster life, take a deep breath and relax. I think you’ll find that your lack of opinions will be more detrimental to your writing than your lack of life experiences.

[photo: Wes Molebash]

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  • Laura McClellan

    I really like this post! I’m fairly uninteresting as well, but I’m a writer and I always try to go back to the “write what you know” thing…without much coming from it. So thanks for the encouragement!

    • Wes Molebash

      Thanks, Laura! I’m glad I could offer some encouragement!

  • Tommy Pritchard

    Great article, Wes! As a novice writer myself, I have learned that it really is more important to be passionate about what you are writing, than to be knowledgeable about it. If there is something I don’t know in my writing, I can always research it and find it out. However, if I’m not passionate about it, I’m not going to care enough to do that. It is also going to become a burden, that I’m going to end up hating anyways!

    • Wes Molebash

      You’re exactly right about research. Wikipedia is a mouse-click away. And you know what? Unless you’re writing hard science fiction, no one really cares if you don’t get all your facts straight or if you bend the rules or if you change history. It’s all about your characters, and your characters will be all about you.

  • Jessi Solomon

    Great article! Thanks!

    • Wes Molebash

      No problem, Jessi! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Anokina Shahbaz

    Loved your post Wes! It made me laugh :) . I can definitely relate as I’ve thought that before about my own life. But luckily for me I’m an introvert, and we are in our heads ALL the time, so I have a very deep and rich inner life to draw from. Plus, we observe our surroundings more than participate (which has its down side), so I have many things to write about from how I see the world. Thank you for your honest writing. And love your comics!

    • Wes Molebash

      Thanks for the kind words, Anokina!

      Observing your surroundings is vital to good writing. One of the things I love to do when I’m hanging out with my friends is to just listen to them talk. I pay attention to the words they use and the cadence of their speech. I pour all that stuff into my dialogue writing, which is essentially all I write as a cartoonist. :)

  • 1lori_1

    This is so true! We all have a story and only we can tell it the best and most truthful way. Some of my favorite stories are all about small town life and the people that populate the town….there you go. Our life to someone else can be extremely interesting if it is doesn’t seem like it to us. I loved this post…

    • Wes Molebash

      Absolutely! We all have stories, right? I don’t care if your life is “boring”; if you’re a good writer with a thoughtful worldview, I want to read your story. Plain and simple.

  • Brianna DeWitt

    Thank you so much for this post. This is one issue I’ve been struggling with a lot lately, and it’s great to hear that 1) I’m not alone in feeling this way and 2) Just because I haven’t done all sorts of crazy things doesn’t mean I can’t write well and interesting about the things I have experienced. Thanks for your words

    • Wes Molebash

      There are a lot of books out there right now, especially within the Christian subculture, that encourage the reader to live a great life. I can’t disagree with this idea, but I think that too often we’re given the impression that a “great life” is made up of travel and culture and chance encounters with extremely smart and influential people. If you’re able to do these things, then more power to you. But I have a mortgage and a day job and an awesome wife that require my attention and my finances. I don’t think I’ll be hiking the Mayan trail anytime soon.

      But that’s OK. There are still plenty of great stories for folks like you and me to tell. Living a “great life” is more about attitude than it is about experience.

  • Katie Axelson

    I sometimes have to remember that just because my family traditions are normal to me, they’re not normal to everyone else. There are some great stories in our chaos.

    • Wes Molebash

      Boom! I love this!

  • Jeremy Bentley

    Thank you for writing this article, Wes! I have always had creative ideas bouncing around in my head, but never once took the leap of faith to actually write them myself. I have drawn those ideas, sure, and have collaborated with others who I figured could write my ideas better than me, while I drew them. I have always believed that great writers must have really interesting lives, hence the reason for being able to write so well, and be so well-received. I have always compared my life to those that have had more “experiences”, whether they be horrible experiences or exciting experiences. And that comparison has always led me to believe that my life has been incredibly dull and uneventful. Yet, I STILL have had all these creative ideas that I wanted to pen, but never trusted myself to make it interesting and “real” enough. I figured people would see right through me, and know that my writing lacked any kind of depth as a result of my seemingly uninteresting life.

    Well, recently, I had an idea and just decided to throw my insecurities to the wind. I began writing, and things have just flown from my fingers into the computer at an astounding rate. I am writing a project that I am really genuinely excited about. It started off being something more surface-y and humorous, but as I have written more and more, I have found that the story is gaining so much more depth, and that there are some really great emotional touchstones in it as well. I can’t explain it, but all of a sudden I feel like I am off to this fantastic start, and that it is only getting better the more I write. Where is all this character depth coming from? I don’t know these characters, I made them up! I mean, this is a complete fantasy world I am creating here. I didn’t have an explanation for these mysteries until I read this article today. Yes, I am conjuring settings and characters for which I have no particular life experience to draw from, but it turns out that the story is coming from the greatest depths of my beliefs and the things that powerfully motivate me as a person. And that is why the story appears to keep taking on more of a defined shape, and why there is a continually growing emotional depth to it. I still have quite a way to go with this writing project, but I am so excited that it feels like I can REALLY do this! Thanks for giving me this wonderful explanation!

    • Wes Molebash

      Thanks for sharing this, man. So awesome.

      It reminds me of something Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) once said. When asked if he was anything like Calvin he replied “no”, and that Calvin was easy to write because the character’s viewpoints and ideals were the exact opposite of his own.

      That’s a great example of what it means to “write what you know” in regards to your passions and beliefs. You’ll have characters that share your convictions (most likely the heroes) and characters that have views that go against everything you hold dear (most likely the villains).

  • MCHadley

    You don’t think about it but everyone at some point or another goes through things that are similar, if not the same. So the things that may seem common to you can help others and your writing. Different viewpoints always help. Thanks so much, as a busy college senior I can never figure out what to write about. This helps. I do think that we also don’t need perfect resolution to our stories, life doesn’t always resolve perfectly and so our writing should reflect that!

    • Wes Molebash

      Well said. It’s the “viewpoint” that makes the story unique. In other words, “you” are what makes the story different than any other story every told.

      • MCHadley

        Ya! It took me time but I realized this a couple months ago. I was having one of those existential writers “crisises” because I realized that other than God, Adam and a few select people I would never do something that was completely original. As paul says, there is nothing new under the sun. Everything that has been before will be again and so I was sort of like….what’s the use? That’s when I realized every “viewpoint” gives you a better view of the whole picture. I just needed to be told that even if it’s “mundane and common”, it should be written about. Now to work on that….

        • Wes Molebash

          Do work! :)

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  • Leelee

    This perspective really shoots down the lie that all stories must be full of tragedy and trouble.

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