Experienced Enough for This

going away to the Peace Corps party
going away to the Peace Corps party

Change came in a tiny box. I registered for the SAT and somewhere on the paper was a box to order a book of colleges and universities. Sure that I was destined for community college, I got out my lunch money that I hadn’t spent on lunches and ordered a copy.

The massive book arrived and though I told myself it was a waste of time, I spent hours reading about other school in other states, all they required and offered. And how much they cost.

I started circling schools. Dream schools. Cheap schools. And each school I circled was far away. Out of state. Out of the South. I wrote letters asking for applications. And while I either wiled the money out of my dad or from my lunch money, I came to believe that I was going to leave home. I didn’t ask the school guidance counselor or my dad. I showed my acceptance letter to my dad and told him this was where I was going. Indiana. Cheap and far away enough from my Florida town.

“Why can’t you go to PCC?” he asked.

“This is better,” I said, not knowing if this was true. Not wanting to confess that I wanted to leave everything. Clean slate. New me. I’d left my dad once before. I hoped he wouldn’t realize I was doing it again. “If that is what you want, Marta,” he said. “You’ll be very far away.”

I nodded and bit the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. “But it has the cheapest out-of-state tuition,” I said. “And you did it. You left home to come here. And you were 17 too.”

“You do what you need to do,” he said. “You can always come home if you need to.”

“Sure, I can,” I said. And I’m grateful nothing will hold me back. I’m grateful that boys don’t like me. I’m grateful that I’m terrible enough not to want to stay with my friends.

How much experience do you need to be a writer? Do you need to leave home or can you stay in your room? Do you need to experiment, take risks, be wild, to be a writer? Is your own imagination sufficient? Eventually the experience has to stop and you need to sit down and write. And some experiences could kill you. And experience alone won’t put the right words on the page.

What experiences have you missed that could make you a better writer? Or is there any such thing?

11 thoughts on “Experienced Enough for This

  1. andewallscametumblindown

    I often think about this, and the fact is that we all have experiences, even if we’ve missed out on the sort of experiences that most people have. There may be many things that I can’t write about first hand, but I can write about the experience of missing out on experiences – the reasons for missing out and how it felt to miss out. ~Miriam

    1. I don’t know what experiences are the ones most of us have–we all come at every experience with our own baggage, perceptions, and whatnot. And we all will have missed out on something.

  2. If I long for experiences I missed, it’s because I missed the experiences themselves, not because I think it hurts me as a writer. I think pursuing a degree in something more writer-related when I had the chance at college would’ve helped in some ways, but then, it’s only fiction.

    If I need to experience something to write about it because it’s necessary to the story, well … that’s what the Internet’s for, I guess. 🙂

    1. True. Some experiences are probably best left for the virtual world. Besides, I find that most of us overvalue other people’s experiences and undervalue our own.

  3. Hmm. I don’t know about this. I feel like I’m a pretty internal, rather hermit-like and generally “safe” type of person. I don’t take a lot of chances. I don’t do exciting, dangerous things. I’m kind of boring, not wild at all. But then, I’m also not conservative, I’m just a quiet kind of weirdo doing my own thing.

    I’d rather have the free time to write and paint and think than an exciting life full of socializing and bright lights and fast anything. I’d also rather have my writing time than follow the rules of what a conventional productive citizen should be.

    There are people who say that I am brave and live an exciting life. I guess I save up my bravery, thinking about it before jumping in wholeheartedly. LIke going away to college, sight unseen, all by myself, or quitting teaching to focus on my writing and art, or getting ready to start over in California with basically nothing.

    What does it have to do with writing? I think it’s the time I spend thinking about things that helps. I weigh options. I imagine results of different choices. I consider the could bes. I also do a lot of observing. What do other people do, say, want? And when I make my “brave” choices finally, I pay attention to the new surroundings and incorporate that into my work. But I think you can have that attention in a conventional, safe, boring life, too.

    Life might be boring, but even then, people aren’t. Not if you can really see them.

    1. “Life might be boring, but even then, people aren’t.” I so agree with that.

      I don’t really know you, but I look at your art and see a brave, exciting, interesting person. Besides, someone could climb Mt Everest and jump out of airplanes and still be tedious. I knew someone who could do exciting things like that but who couldn’t have a normal, close relationship. Sometimes it takes bravery to do a simple thing.

  4. Back in the day when I used to think I wanted to be a writer, I always heard the adage, “write what you know.” And I realized that I really didn’t know a whole lot about anything. Then one day I realized that lots of writing is about things that people don’t know – like science fiction, a lot of romance, history (because the writer wasn’t actually there). Stephen King has never had a menstrual cycle but his 1st best seller was about a girl going through that. (Carrie)

    I suspect that imagination is the best “experience” and that’s probably what writer’s tap into when they write. I think it’s less about experience and more about ideas and being creative – the whole “what if” thing. If you’re good at that, you’re half-way there.

    1. People take that “write what you know” thing way to seriously. Asimov never traveled through space and Stephen King never killed anyone, and they write fine. I always took it more as write what you can feel. As long as you can do that, you can write anything.

  5. Nothing original to add — just concurrence with the “not better, just different” line of thinking. (Which, Lord knows, does not imply I couldn’t be better!)

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