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To Write Well, You Have to Live

NOTE: This is a guest blog post by 16-year-old Annia Napier, my youngest client, who is at work on her first book series.

Over time, I’ve realized that my own life experiences have helped me develop my distinct writing style. Whether it be watching an intriguing show, being inspired by an idea for a new character after seeing a random stranger, or talking with friends and family, I am learning that life experiences can be a good resource for the practice of writing.

When I’m out and about, I try to focus on the little details around me: the way the birds tweet and the crickets chirp, the warm touch or cool bite of the breeze, conversations happening in the background. I pay attention to what people are wearing. I notice clever turns of phrases and the ways particular gestures seem to match people’s unique personalities. I even pay attention to how the light from a sunset or sunrise plays across the landscape. I like to focus sharply on these seemingly small details and ask myself how I might describe them in a sentence.

I work at my grandma’s embroidery shop. When customers come in, I notice how they act, how they talk, what they talk about, and what their names are. The people around me—those I know well and those I hardly know at all—give me ideas for how to develop unique character personalities, traits and names. I’ve seen many people walk in and out of my grandma’s shop, and every time a new person walks in, I’m presented with another fresh idea.

I sing at church, and even then, I pay attention to the small details: how the instrumentalists hold and play their instruments, how vocalists sing their parts, how people interact with each other. I notice body language and I try to pay attention to the atmosphere in the building.

When I travel with my family, new worlds literally open up, even if I’ve been to that place before. The many moments during an adventure awaken my muse until my mind is overflowing with new ideas—character possibilities and plot twists and bits of dialogue. Oftentimes it is overwhelming, but in a good way. For my writing, the most common epiphanies when I’m traveling present themselves in terms of worldbuilding. I write fantasy and futuristic fiction, and my stories always need an imaginary place to unfold. Traveling always opens new possibilities and perspectives. The buildings are different, the communities are different, and the overall atmosphere is different from the world I know and call home. 

Although I hate to admit it, I also find inspiration in conflicts that happen within my own household. I take note of how I feel after taking part in a frustrating argument or observing a spat between others. Sometimes I feel anger burning within me. Sometimes I feel physically cold when I’m depressed. I know what it feels like to be on top of the world, and I look for ways to describe that feeling in a way that’s not so cliché. These life moments, good and bad, help me describe a character’s thoughts and emotions when I go back to my writing. And really, the only way I can describe them is because I know how it feels, too.

You, as the author, are your own excellent resource for writing. Sometimes I’ll look back at myself and wonder why I did the things I did. Other times, I’ll wonder what another person would have done differently if they were in my shoes. Sometimes I’ll see myself as a character in my own story.

No matter what situation you’re in, whether it be a boring class, an embarrassing moment, or a top-of-the-world experience, learn to rely on your own life as fodder for your writing. You might not have to look too far to find the inspiration you need. Part of what makes your writing unique is that no one else in the world can have the exact same experience that you have—just like no one else can be the same person as you are. To grow as a writer, you have to live a little.

4 thoughts on “To Write Well, You Have to Live”

  1. Wonderful, Annia! Your head must be full to bursting with all your ideas filed away in there. Your observations will be something you can use throughout your creative years to come. Love you and proud of you. —Aunt Carol

  2. Wow! How far you have come in your writing Annia! I can see the teacher/mentor, Kate, shining in the background and through your new found articulate voice that is unfolding in technicolor! This journey has just begun and I love having a front row seat cheering you on!

  3. How far you have come in your writing Annia! I can see the teacher/mentor, Kate, shining in the background and through your new found articulate voice that is unfolding in technicolor! This journey has just begun and I love having a front row seat cheering you on!

  4. ANNIA!
    WOW, I am impressed. You sweetheart are a great rolemodel and a wonderful young woman with such wisdom. I look forward to reading more.

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