Note from Nick: this is a guest post from Laura Dennis, who currently resides in Serbia! Be sure to leave her a comment thanking her for her time and effort in writing this post, and also–check out her books (info in her byline)!
As well, check out her post over at Turndog Millionaire, called Can Fan Fiction Be a Part of Your Book Marketing Strategy?
How to tap into past and present experiences for blog posts, article ideas… and maybe even your next novel!
“People write memoirs because they lack the imagination to make things up.” - American author Tom Robbins
Mr. Robbins is partially right. I just published a memoir, Adopted Reality, and it was a tale that I absolutely had to get out of my head. I couldn’t even conceive of making up a story and writing whole book of fiction before I wrote about my bipolar breakdown following 9/11.
But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t use my imagination!
Today I’d like to inspire you with concrete steps for tapping into your experiences for fresh, interesting writing ideas. I love Nick’s goal to help readers be more creative and more productive. I’m happy to be guest posting, and I hope these tips will help you “live hacked.”
Maybe you’ve already written a novel, and now you’re trying to build your author platform with biographical content for your website and blog. Perhaps you have 1,000+ blog posts under your belt—all about the same topic; and you’re stuck in a writing rut. Maybe you’re convinced that you have a few great true-life stories hiding somewhere in your brain, and you have no idea where to begin.
For starters, please, put your middle school journal down. Those thoughts, poems, and doodles, starting from the seventh grade may be heart-felt, but they lack the perspective you need to give your writing an edge.
I’ve structured this post on the predictable—and yet completely repeatable—journalistic pattern of the 5 W’s: who, what, where, when and why. I’ve also included writing prompts that can help get the creative juices flowing. You can take these tips and develop compelling content for the next 1,000 blog posts!
Tip #1: Who & What
Begin by shifting how you view yourself and others. You, your family and friends are now characters in a narrative. Each character has a look, a way of speaking, and a back-story. He has motivations that drive his behaviors and actions.
Writing prompt: Among all the people you know, think of the five quirkiest. Jot down your favorite story about one of them, an anecdote that made you stop and think, or laugh-out-loud. Then, draw conclusions about life by connecting this anecdote to a life lesson or a timely news item.
Tip #2: Where
Anyone who’s taken a creative writing class knows about setting. The all-important “where.” Describe the scene, let the reader get into the story.
When you’re writing about personal experiences, the places you grew up, the schools you attended, your first apartment, these are all part of the setting. Maybe you’re the expert on the funky street layout that makes it impossible to make a U-turn in your hometown. Or, you know the best hangouts, and you can describe in excruciating detail your favorite bar’s sticky stools, which invariably emanate the stench of beer and sweat.
Write what you know, and each remembered detail will resonate with your audience that much more profoundly.
Writing Prompt: Where was your favorite hiding place as a child? Does it evoke positive emotions (secret lair), or negative ones (trying to get away from the bully)? Remember to describe the smells and sounds, along with what you see and feel.
Tip #3: When & Why
Try to place episodes in your family’s history within their cultural context. How do your characters’ actions relate to their social standing and economic status? In this way, when things happened connect directly to why they happened.
Writing Prompt: Brainstorm major historical events, and where your parents or grandparents were. Think of occasions such as them watching the first man land on the moon, or hearing about the JFK assassination. Another great question, Where were you on 9/11?
Adding in details, such as social and historical factors, provide context for the reader.
You can go another route. Think of a topic for which you have a strong opinion, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, pro-life, pro-choice, homelessness, you get the picture. The reason for the “strong opinion” requirement is so that you’ll have a point-of-view.
You have to take a side in order for the story to have perspective and, frankly, to be interesting.
But a note: You don’t have to have an ethnicity other than Caucasian to write about racism. You don’t have to be a woman to write about sexism. You don’t even have to have directly experienced any of these topics to have an opinion on them. You can still write a great personal story.
Writing Prompt: Take a topic for which you have a strong opinion, and off the top of your head, list five examples in your life, or the lives of people you’ve encountered, that relate to that topic.
Connecting an issue with your personal experiences will help you to create subtext, which is an underlying and implied idea that adds richness to your writing. This is the mark of great memoirs: if you can draw conclusions about your personal life, your readers will feel connected to you. They’ll learn something about their own lives.
Tip #4: Start Writing!
Try one of the writing prompts, just shoot for 400 words, and you’ll get there more quickly than you think.
Or, simply write a comment! Do you feel guilty about turning your friends into characters? Want to share what you’ve written after being inspired by one of the above writing prompts? Have a question about infusing subtext into your writing? Post a comment below, or connect with me online. I’d love to help!
Learn more about me at AdoptedRealityMemoir.com
Follow my blog, adoptedrealitymemoir
Like Adopted Reality on Facebook
Tweet with me @adoptedreality
Or just send me a plain-old email, laura @ adoptedrealitymemoir.com