Writing Secrets: Want to be a writer? No need to travel the world first

 In Jo-Anne Richard's blog, Tips for Writers

The other day a young man approached me at a workshop and told me he longed to be a writer – but felt he hadn’t yet garnered enough experience of life.

I can remember thinking the same thing when I hadn’t seen much the world beyond the Eastern Cape. (I’d never been in a plane until I finished university.) I’ve come to realise, though, that this is less a conviction than a cop-out. It lets you off the hook when you’re nervous to take the plunge.

You don’t need to have gone through extraordinary experiences or travelled to exotic locations to find material. What you do need, though, is to observe.

We all think we see things around us, but most of us don’t. We’ve become used to the way we live and interact with each other. We take it all for granted. You need to change that.

Spend a few weeks carrying around a notebook and approach your daily life, and the place you live, as though you were an alien. Once you accept that you wish to be a writer, you will forever be part of, and yet stand aside from, life and the people around you, even those closest to you.

Notice the way people speak to each other, the things they say, the way they seek love, friendship or companionship. A story idea can’t help but appear before very long. Your own lives and those of the people around you are rich with story potential.

A small life doesn’t make for a small story. Think of Jane Austen. Her stories of manners and men, and how they impinge upon the lives of women, give us a view into a time and place in history, and the universal concerns of humanity.

There are stories everywhere, and often the most compelling stories are those which are closest to home.

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  • Nastassia Da Silva

    I really enjoyed this Jo-Anne as it is a feeling I’ve wrestled with my whole life. I always lived in a very sheltered world physically, but I’d like to think that I’ve allowed my mind and imagination to wander into the far reaches of space, into the centuries before me and across borders I’ll never have the money to enter literally. The Brontë sisters existed in a very cornered world and yet their writing was so encompassing of the human experience and they’ve reached far down into our times. This gives me confidence, your post was perfectly timed. Your opening words about being a part of, and standing aside from life is now one of my favourite quotes from a writer! 😉

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