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]