When it comes to life writing, some of us might start thinking of our lives in the past tense. We think of the things we've done, accomplished, experienced - all the adventures we've had. We may view our writing time as reminiscing over the past, plumbing the memories we've acquired over our lifetime.
While it's true that the Tree of Life Writing is planted in the soil of our memories, keeping that soil fertile is an ongoing process - one you still have plenty of control over.
The realisation of this truism hit me the other day when I was commenting on Sharon's recent post "Write Where the Juice Is." I mentioned that I'd moved to China at 21. Sharon replied:
One of the advantages of beginning to write as a relatively young person is that you can shape your life for the page. Thinking like a writer can serve as conscience reinforcement, ethical map, compelling vision, as well as the usual functions.
The concept of 'shaping my life for the page' resonated with me. The more I thought about the concept, the more I realised that it applied to every age. No matter where we are in our journey of life, we can continue to shape our life for the page.
Here are 5 ways I can think of to fertilize the soil of our Tree of Life Writing. I'd love to hear yours!
One of the best ways to enrich the soil of your memories is to sample the memories of others. Interacting with other people will widen your world view and expose you to different opinions. Reaching out to an enthusiastic person is the best way to inspire yourself in a new endeavour.
For example, growing up I had no interest in Asia. I spoke a little Spanish and dreamed of visiting South America. Then a new friend came long. She'd learned Mandarin Chinese and encouraged me to give it a go.
At first I refused. That's not where I envisioned my life leading. But slowly my friend dropped hints and irresistible titbits of information until I found myself inexorably drawn toward a new subject - China. Her enthusiasm and certainty infected me.
Try it yourself: Choose a friend whose passions and interests differ from your own. Spend time getting to know them, asking them questions about their experiences and viewpoints. Allow their comments to widen your horizons.
Curiosity may kill cats, but it's the life blood of life writers. Cultivating a curiosity in many different subjects can open doors you've never even considered.
As my interest in China grew, I began reading everything I could get my hands on. I learned of the culture, the history and the stories of everyday people. I found connections between this new subject and a favourite interest of mine - sailing boats. I learned about tea clippers and the effect they had on both the Chinese and British cultures.
Since then I've been like a literary bower bird, collecting together facts and experiences on this subject with the aim of one day writing a novel documenting this period of history.
Try it yourself: Go to the library or a book store and find a book on a subject that mildly interests you. As you investigate the subject further, look for connections to other life interests you have. Find a common narrative to connect your experiences together.
Whether you're setting off for the other side of the planet or simply to the next town, your movement through the world will expose you to fresh experiences that will compost themselves into your memories.
My love for China and the Chinese led me to travel there and eventually live in the country for over 2 years. As you can imagine, in that time I collected a huge array of anecdotes and some truly life-changing moments.
Try it yourself: Plan a trip to somewhere new. You don't need to leave your country, or even your state. Just find somewhere that you've never been before and set off into the unknown!
Try Your Hand at New Activities
The act of learning something creates new pathways in the brain, providing even more fodder for your writing. Attempting a new skill like painting, horseback riding or learning another language not only adds to your experiences but also provides you new ways of expressing yourself.
Tackling the Chinese language was one of the most challenging things I've ever attempted in my life, but I found it an invaluable addition to my life. Thinking in another language helped me see outside my culture and the confines of my mother tongue. This encouraged me to express my thoughts in unique ways, approaching subjects from alternate angles.
As a writer, each adjustment to my way of viewing the world and communicating that viewpoint opens up a plethora of possibilities - possibilities I could write about for the rest of my life.
Try it yourself: Start learning a skill you've always wanted to try. Perhaps it's playing an instrument or making lace. You don't have to be good at it. You're focusing on the experience, not necessarily the finished product.
Experiment With Your Writing
All of the above feed back into your writing. With these experiences you now have plenty of raw material from which to create interesting narratives, comparisons and voices in your work.
For me, living in China was a lesson in differences. There were so many everyday objects and actions in my life that were completely different in China or didn't even have an equivalent. Those comparisons made me work harder at my descriptions of places and people. I focused on making sure each character I captured on the page had their own unique voice and thought process.
Try it yourself: Play with your writing voice. Imagine you're describing a location from someone else's point of view. Change the format of your writing. Try relating an experience out of order.
Much about your life is still within your power to influence. So live like you want to write. Continue doing, experiencing and accomplishing your life's adventures!
What about you? How have you shaped your life for the page? Please comment and let me know.Find Jessica online: Jessica Baverstock blogs at Creativity’s Workshop where her creativity writes in purple text. Her latest downloadable e-book, Creativity on Demand, covers how writers can access their creativity whenever and wherever they need inspiration. Her Twitter handle is @jessbaverstock.