Monday, May 09, 2011

Stay Alive

I'm reading Dwight Swain's magnificent Techniques of the Selling Writer again. I've thumbed through it a few times and read a few chapters, but never really dug into the meat of it.

In his last chapter, entitled "Preparation, Planning, Production", he offers advice on how to stay productive throughout your writing career. One tip in particular really struck me:

Stay alive.

Swain writes, "Life is a writer's raw material. Successful writers immerse themselves in it. To that end, you read. You travel. You shop. You loaf on street corners. You go to ball games. You visit friends. You attend parties. You work in church or civic club or Boy Scout troop. In other words, you contact people. All kind of people, without regard to age or sex or social stratum; the wider the range, the better. No aspect of your work is more important."

I admit, I am a hermit. There are some weekends when I don't go anywhere and just stay home. I do this because I am gone every day for work, and I love being in my cute little house.

But doing this too often isn't good. There is simply too much life to experience. But I love how Swain defines "staying alive." You don't have to take a trip to Europe or to the East coast to live life. You can sit in the mall and people watch. You can take a walk in part of your neighborhood you've never been before. You can attend a local author's book reading. You can take an afternoon to drive down a country road you've never been on before. You can read a book that isn't in your comfort zone.

This is staying alive. This is absorbing the things that make the world go 'round. This is what we use as fodder for our writing.

While I stayed home for most of this last weekend (except for a quick trip to a local crafts store where I scored a ton of Snoopy stuff!), I still managed to "stay alive." I went for a walk. I took my daughter for an ice cream treat. I had a water fight with my daughter and my hubby. I sat in my backyard and listened to the birds. I read. I did a lot of writing. I peeked into a robin's nest and saw four perfect blue eggs.

All well and good and necessary. But I need to do more outside of my home. Next weekend, I am attending a writing workshop, and I'm looking forward to the conversation and fellowship with other writers. There's a great exhibit at a local museum I plan to attend in June. So I've got a few things lined up.

Again, it's about balance, the one thing we strive so hard to achieve in life. But in this case, this balance will also help me write better. Seeing the world, in all its different facets, even from our own backyard, is imperative to making sure we can connect with our readers. Our writing will be much richer when we actively "stay alive."


  1. You gave the best answer on my blog today! ANd I see it ties in nicely with your blog post too! I'm glad staying alive is an important part of being a writer. =)

  2. Melissa,
    I am definitely a hermit too, and I have to make a real effort to get out there and experience life. The exception is going to antique or second hand stores. I'm ready, willing and able to "stay alive" at those places! :)

    This is a great post though-it is critical to experience new things so that we do have raw material to use in our writing.

    Hope you had an excellent Mother's Day!!

  3. Oh boy, I'm one who definitely needs this advice. Thanks for sharing! I think I want to check out that book...

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  4. Tana - Thanks! It was weird how I just read that part in Swain's book last night. It fit perfectly with your post!

    Valerie - I can't even make an exception for the antique stores some days! I am just a complete hermit - and during the summer, it is WORSE since I cannot bear the heat. And yes, had a great Mother's Day - beautiful cards (from hubby and daughter), beautiful flowers for a gift, got into a fun squirt gun water fight with my daughter and hubby joined in with the hose!), and watched "Hogan's Heroes" at the end of the day. Perfect!

    Sarah - This is an EXCELLENT book. I highly recommend it!

  5. What an inspirational post, in such a positive way. When we do all those things, don't we find so many perspectives to look at life through, and then bring all those perspectives to the page. What a nice way to develop our craft.

  6. Good point. I know that if I didn't have to step away from the laptop I wouldn't. I lose hours/days with my writing, so it's a good thing my family demand my attention occasionally and I have to go out to work.

  7. Oh you get to go to a writers workshop!! Yay! I tend to not live as I should. Since right now because of economics, I am limited in what I can do that is free and with gas so high, I tend to stay at home. Not my choice but...

  8. Oh I'm like you, I just love to be a hermit and stay at home. But I know I have to get out and "stay alive" - keep fresh water running in! Balance is so important. We had unexpected guests this weekend, I thought I wouldn't like the interruption, but turns out it was wonderful!

  9. Joanne - Agreed! It is the different perspectives that are absolutely necessary to have in our own writing.

    Terri - Take a walk around your neighborhood or read a book out of your comfort zone. Those are both ways to "stay alive" without spending a cent!

    Margo - I tend to get all worked up when I have guests, unexpected or not. It's like they're invading my space! But I always enjoy it when they're here. We writers are a weird bunch. ;-)

  10. Debs - I had to force myself to take a walk yesterday. I'd been writing all day on Saturday and most of the day on Sunday. So glad I did because it was gorgeous out!

  11. So true. As writers and as people, we need to observe and learn and live. Fabulous post!

  12. Lovely, perfect advice. I'm a home body too. But also a seeing beautiful things and meeting amazing people body too ;)

  13. Great post, Melissa. I tend to the hermit side of life too, but I know that inspiration comes when I get out and about.

  14. Christine - Thank you! Observing people is one of my favorite things to do. :-)

    Colene - Agreed!

    Linda - It's funny - it appears that most writers are hermits! But I think we have to be to get the work done. :-)


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