There's no end
to the things you might know, depending how far beyond Zebra you go! {Dr. Seuss}

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Difficult Life vs. Easy Life

On Monday, I asked you to share your thoughts on whether writers must live eventful, “exciting” lives in order to write well and successfully. Your comments led to an excellent discussion; thank you everyone for commenting! I really enjoyed reading what you all thought. Your comments, and one in particular mentioned below, got me thinking about difficult lives versus “easy” lives.
I think I’ve lived an easy life. Yes, there have been unfortunate events; my life is far from “charmed,” but for the most part, I’ve been blessed. My three siblings and I have always gotten along and my parents love and like each other. I’ve always had good friends, a strong, warm roof over my head, delicious food on the table, and plenty of love and laughter. I’ve had a simple past, but a happy one, and it’s continued into the present.
Then I read about those writers who’ve survived through major suffering and turmoil. Their writing is haunting, beautifully raw and emotional. Their voice and style sings to the soul. And they credit such writing ability to their tragic pasts. Sometimes I wonder, can my writing ever be powerful enough to tug at people’s hearts and minds? 

Now, I don’t want to write tragic stuff or anything. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I prefer happiness, warm chocolate chip cookies, puppies, sunshine, and bright colors! But we all know that novels need calamitous events to keep readers interested from page one through the end. (Kind of sad when you think about it, that only drama and suffering can hook people anymore.) 
On Monday's PostKathi Oram Peterson commented: “I used to buy into the ‘you have to live a difficult life to write good books’ theory. I don't anymore. With a good imagination and a ton of research you can write anything.” I really like her comment. I’m open-minded and empathetic; I can put myself in another’s shoes, walk around in them, and imagine what they’ve gone through. I credit my imagination and compassion for the ability to do that. But is imagination really enough for truly powerful and poignant writing? What do you think?
Share with me!
Is is necessary to have a “difficult” life to write compelling stories? Can writers with “charmed” lives write powerfully as long as they’re empathetic, imaginative, and willing to do the research needed?

18 comments:

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I think it helps, but that doesn't hinder the writer who hasn't had a rough life. Mine's had it's moments, but it's pretty uneventful.
I've also lost my youthful angst (not a bad thing!) which I guess has reflected in my novels, which are also happy and positive in feel.

Write Chick said...

I have to say that, though my life has had its crappy moments, it has been pretty darn great. Certainly nothing calamitous enough to bring angst to my writing.
However, I've always been a people watcher and been interested in the lives of others. I can watch a movie about something horrible that happens and totally feel like I'm there experiencing it. The news just about kills me, because of this.

So I think that all it takes is a good imagination and exposing yourself to plenty of depressing things.

Honestly, I don't like to write about it. I'd rather write about happy than sad.

Eric W. Trant said...

Pain opens up a whole nuther set of nerves.

You don't need to lead a painful life -- who'd wish that on themselves -- but what pain I've had in mine finds its way into my stories.

But so does the good stuff, the charming bright colors and puppies and sunshine.

A good story can have both pain and happiness. It should have both. One without the other might lopside your story, and one without the other might lopside your life, but really, there's an audience out there ready to suck up your words no matter how cheery or morose they might be.

Just so long as they're powerful words.

- Eric

Eric W. Trant said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca @ Diary of a Virgin Novelist said...

I don't think you have to have lived a difficult life to be a good writer. I do think it is important to feel as many emotions as possible. Emotions are what is universal.

DL Hammons said...

It depends. How good is your imagination? How good of a writer are you? How much research are you willing to take on? The answer to these questions will sway my opinion. Short answer...No.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

I've heard that it helps your writing. I have a boring, easy life, though, and the writing is going pretty well for now. :)

Shannon said...

I think it helps a little to struggle in order to write about it, but even someone with an "easy" life has their challenges.

Did you go to high school? That's a struggle.

Ever had your heart broken? Stuggle.

Do you long for something you don't have and may never have? Struggle.

Granted, these aren't the same struggles someone living in an abusive household or third world country suffers, but they are experiences from which to draw.

Jen said...

I believe individuals are given only the trials they can handle, therefore some of us do have darker pasts than others but we all experience the same feelings.

For example if some is physically abused for most of their lives they feel a certain connection with one another and anger, hostility, hurt and pain are all something they feel.

If someone loses a puppy the same anger, hostility, hurt and pain is applied.

Everyone has different experiences, so while I think darker one's can help you dig deeper in your emotions I don't always think they are the key to writing a great novel.

Research is great but if you have no feelings and no emotions then writing something purely from research will do no good, you have to feel, and that's something every writer has. (sorry for the novel, lol)

Jemi Fraser said...

I think empathy can take you a long way. It's probably one of the most important attributes for an author (in my opinion anyway). We have to be able to really understand our characters and really 'get' their emotions and reactions. Empathy is powerful stuff.

catwoods said...

I think living a tragic existence can make writing about similar events easier. However, fear the rut of cheap therapy through writing.

There is a significant and researched link to writer suicide rates and mental health hospitals which indicates that people with tragic and difficult lives are drawn to the writing process.

That said, any writer can write compelling and tragic stories with enough practice, patience, research and compassion. And yes, empathy.

~ cat

Laura Marcella said...

Diane- There are many writers who've lived "easy, boring" lives and write about painful moments extremely well. I think it's all about being receptive to emotions, no matter how minor the tragic situation.

Write Chick- Good point! Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

Eric- Oh goodness, I think you misunderstood me. I do not by any means want to live a painful life. I wouldn't give up how I live for anything! I just thought it'd make an interesting discussion; I like hearing what other writers think, especially about stereotypes like the "tragic" writers. Great point that a good story should have both pain and happiness!

Rebecca- Absolutely, I agree. Good thing I'm emotional then, haha!

DL- My imagination is excellent. My writing is still improving. I love learning so researching is fun and interesting. 2.5 out of 3, how's that? Lol!

Elizabeth- Glad to hear there's someone with a "boring, easy" life whose writing is awesome!

Shannon- I agree. Plenty of experiences evoke an intense emotional response, no matter how minor or major.

Jen- Absolutely, I agree. I think being able to put oneself in another's shoes is key. Also remembering those moments when you yourself felt angry, heartbroken, frightened, or whatever, and applying those emotions to the situation you're writing.

Jemi- I think empathy is important for writers, too. Writers must be willing to understand how others feel, especially if its an experience the writer is unfamiliar with.

Cat- Yikes, I know! I once read an article about the life-expectancy of writers. It wasn't good! But there were a ton of factors involved, so I didn't take it too seriously. I agree with your last line: writers need practice, patience, research, compassion, and empathy. Great points!

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Laura, I'm joining in a little late here, but what an interesting thing to ponder. I'm one of those who hasn't led a life free of suffering, but I've also been immensely blessed. My goal in life is turn all the ugly and negative into something beautiful and positive. Writing, for me, has been the channel to help accomplish that. It's hard for me to imagine a life free of suffering, since that seems to me such an integral part of the human condition. But, I think it's wonderful you've been so blessed, Laura. I wouldn't wish suffering onto yourself for the sake of writing for anything (not that you said you would). I'm assuming you can be an excellent writer without having suffered as deeply as some of your cohorts. I also suspect that you might endure suffering yet in your life. Few escape it in some form. Writing aside, I find that it's been in my suffering that I've drawn more closely to God. That said, maybe because of the blessed life you've led, you won't require that same process in this life. We don't all carry the same intensity of burdens. Perhaps God has gifted you with this lightness to help others find it more easily. What a wonderful possibility. :) Keep writing -- you'll find your groove, with or without having suffered.

Stacy Post said...

Laura! I posted a thank you on my blog today for the award you gave me! :)

Laura Pauling said...

I fall in the land of in between. I think that there is true depth of feeling to the people that have experience suffering. But, if someone is a skilled enough writer and does their research, they can accomplish it too.

Laura Marcella said...

Roxane- Goodness, no, I don't want to wish suffering onto myself. Someone else above mentioned that; I think I need to change my post now to make that clear! I just thought it'd make an interesting discussion; I like hearing what other writers think, especially about stereotypes like the "tragic" writers. Thanks for your comment!

Stacy- You're welcome! I'm heading over to your blog! :)

Laura- Good point! I agree! :)

kimberlyloomis said...

Good post! As a writer I think you're only limited by your fear of delving into the dark places, or even the light ones. It's through the boundaries we erect upon our own minds as a result of that fear that can truly stymie our creativity by limiting the areas of life which we're willing to address in prose.

Laura Marcella said...

Kimberly- I love your comment! I never thought about it like that before, but you're absolutely right. Thanks for sharing!