Today, I tweeted: “Is it better to write, drive around with a topless chick, or write about driving around with a topless chick?” At first, I thought, Oh, look at me tweeting about nudity. How clever I am.
Now, thinking it over, I know that I was trying to get something out subconsciously: there’s a difference between writing, experience, and writing about an experience.
I can write. You can write. Even a monkey can write. We do this activity every day from jotting down shopping lists to scribbling down reminders to writing angry letters to the IRS. But the simple act of writing isn’t enough for a writer. The words have to have meaning behind them. I write in a journal, mostly to help organize some of my thoughts like a lucid dream, but I can’t ever guarantee that what I write in my journal is worthy of being reviewed by publisher. Hell, I know it isn’t. That’s why my journal is private.
Next, we come to experience, or driving around with a topless chick. Neil Gaiman once said that struggling writers should go live their lives if they haven’t anything to say, that you should do something to take your mind off of the writing and then come back to it later. While this can help, and I do try to take time off myself every now and then, I think it can backfire. A person can spend so much time absorbing new experiences that the writing ultimately gets left on the side of the road. It’s like research, which is great, but you can’t forget that you must return to the typewriter or the laptop or the notepad at some point.
Finally, there’s writing about an experience, and this can be firsthand experience or, more valuable to the fiction writer, this can be an imagined experience. With science fiction, I have to imagine the scenario. There’s no precedence for space pirates or interstellar diseases. Even if it’s not science fiction, there comes a point where you have to use your imagination. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde describes a murder. Now, if you’re all about the experience, you would ask Wilde, “How did it feel to commit murder?” And Wilde would, of course, answer, “I’ve never murdered! Why would I do such a thing?”
That reminded me just now of something that Stephen King said, something to the effect that writing allows you to explore your dark side in safety; you could, through writing, commit murder without actually doing the act.