Writing from experience | Experience and Writing | Writing
This is a topic that can get very complicated, very quickly – so let me present the question we are going to explore for you to digest (once or twice).
Is creative writing about the writer using personal experiences and self-expression? Or is it about the writer transcending personal experience and suppressing self-expression(defamiliarisation)? Fascinating question eh?
Oh good your still with us…lets begin…
Primary and Secondary Experience
In the beginning there was: Primary experience and secondary (inquiry) experience. An example of a primary experience, was when Adam and Eve where in the Garden of Eden, eating fruit and making clothes from leaves. Now, although Adam and Eve were having the same primary experiences in the garden at the very same time, their secondary experiences were very different…
When quizzed after their experience in the garden (oh yeah, they were quizzed about their primary and secondary experiences!), Adam said that it was a beautiful place and he especially loved the sound of birds tweeting. Eve on the other hand felt claustrophobic, having been surrounded by large trees all day and couldn’t even remember hearing a bird tweet. Both Adam and Eve had the same primary experience (in the garden) but the way they processed the information around them was different (secondary experience). This secondary ‘subjective’ experience is the mind’s ability to process, construct and develop ideas. I’ll let you in on a secret…your secondary ‘inquiry’ experiences fuel your creative thinking process.
Authors such as John Grisham, Dick Francis, Jeff Stone and Sara Gruen use their experiences in life as a platform for their books. John Grisham’s novels including: ‘A Time to Kill’, ‘The Pelican Brief’ and ‘The Appeal’ echo this notion of writing from experience. Having been a lawyer and gathered a magnitude of experience in that field, John Grisham consequently has went on to write an abundance of suspense thrillers based upon judicial system (Law). The message here is to not only write what you know, but to write based upon your experiences to develop authenticity of your characters, plot and scenery (everyone loves a book they can relate to).
Perhaps this sounds obvious, and you are reading this and thinking, ‘of course I am going to write using my experiences in life; that’s where all my ideas generate from’. I agree with you, but what do you think of this…
Poet T.S Eliot speaks with assertion regarding the use of experience in literature. He suggests that writing is not an ‘expression’ of your emotions, personality or humanistic traits, but contrastingly an ‘escape’ from…yourself. Think of this…you are writing your first novel, perhaps there is a millionaire as the protagonist (main character) where do your authentic actions and reactions within the world come from? Perhaps there is something in what T.S Eliot is trying to say, in your writing you are escaping your experiences and quite possibly relying on dreams, admirations, and speculations of a life unknown to you. I.e. suppressing self-expression.
Wow, that was hard reading and we still don’t know the answer. It’s not an easy topic to understand so lets hope I have explained it clearly. I haven’t written a conclusion, as this would be my opinion. The facts are there, now its up to you to decide whether you write from experience or transcend your personality, thoughts and feelings.