Some of my friends have asked me what attributes make a successful writer. I answer that writing is perfect for those who are a jack-of-all-trades. We all know that person out there who can play guitar, complete a marathon, and has enough energy at the end of the day to beat you at Call of Duty. Maybe they aren’t the best at everything, but they’ve learned enough of a lot of different skills to be more than well-rounded. I think any good writer experiences as much as possible in life and those experiences, good or bad, influence their storytelling.
Hemingway drunkenly made his way around Europe and then wrote about characters who often did the same. I’m not saying every story has to be cut from your life. Heck, I’m a science fiction writer. If I went around parading my stories as truths most people would think I’m crazy, or worse, some people might start a church and start worshiping my writing…
Let me put it this way. I get a lot of inspiration from my dreams. Dreams are often very much influenced by our real life, only warped and changed within our minds to reach us at a symbolic level. Maybe that cigar is not really a cigar at all. In science fiction, the guts, the core of it all is just like any other story apart from the setting and the technological advances or regressions. Novels are about people, whether real or fictional. Tangentially, did you know the human brain is incapable of creating a human face from scratch? If you were to think of a face right now, it might have the eyes of the man you saw on the subway, the mouth of the homeless man outside your building, and the facial hair of Brad Pitt on the tabloid at the supermarket. Our brains are wondrous things, but they can only rearrange what we have already seen.
How does this relate to writing? I believe we are a collection of our experiences. Everything we see and everything we do can influence how we put pen to paper. When I look out my window and I see someone walking down the street, I like to think up an imaginary back story for that person. I never know when I’ll need another character.
When writing, sometimes I’ll come up with an idea involving a subject I know little about. This is when things get interesting. I’ll spend days or weeks heavily researching that subject, sometimes even reading a college textbook on the subject (in the case of Immunology and my novel Symbiote). Over time, I feel I’ve educated myself on far more than my two, going on three, college degrees would suggest. The way I motivate myself is that I want to know enough about a subject that I could go in right away and test out of that college class if I wanted to without any further study. When I first became interested in writing science fiction novels, I read textbooks about Physics, Astronomy, the space program, cloning, and several biographies of scientists and leaders in technological fields. In this sense, I think being a good reader is absolutely necessary to being a good writer. Who knows, if you become interested in knowing the basics of many different subjects, you too could become a Renaissance Man or Woman.
What’s on your reading list? Have you become something of an expert in a field you recently knew little about? Sound off in the comments or tweet me @TrevorSSchmidt