Writing Tip #66

It's impossible for real life not to impact the story you're writing. In small or big ways. Yet that's what I love about writing fiction--how the story you're telling is a piece of your own personal history. How it's unique to the time and the season you're writing it in.

Let me share two examples from last year.

I was fortunate to work on two collaborations last year. The first was a book I cowrote with musician Mark Schultz entitled Letters From War. I was first approached by the publisher back in November of 2009, then got the green light at the first of the year. I knew that I had other books to write, and that the story needed to be handed in around May of 2010, so I started to write the novel without a contract.

Like many things in publishing, the contract took a while to nail down. It was something different for all parties and because there were several people involved, it took time.

Meanwhile, I kept writing, hoping I'd soon sign a contract, worrying a bit that I was doing all this work for nothing. I just kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting.

And, in many ways, that's what the story is about. The main character is waiting for word on her son whose MIA over in Afghanistan. This waiting that I was going through had a direct impact on my writing. I felt like I could put myself in her shoes in some strange way.

Here's a quote from Letters From War that sums this up:

Her whole life has been waiting. Waiting for word. Waiting for the knock on the door. Waiting to get a phone call. Waiting for an e-mail. Waiting for a letter. Waiting to read, words to hear, to know, to understand, to find out.

The same thing happened when I was working on my other collaboration from last year, the book I cowrote with Jimmy Wayne entitled Paper Angels. In the story, a man is dealing with the prospect of losing the business he'd worked so hard to build, all while he and his wife are weeks (or days) away from the arrival of twins. Of course, this story addition was added because I was going through much the same in terms of waiting for our two little girls to be born. Needless to say, I was quite nervous.

Here's a line that was written from the man's perspective:

He wanted to believe that everything was going to be okay, that he would be able to provide the way any other father would. The future, however, remained very cloudy.

Both of these paragraphs are ones that could have come out of a journal I was writing at that moment. In a way, each story was a journal of sorts.

The feelings and impressions and experiences that a writer is dealing with as he's writing a story can be sprinkled or poured into that story. That's the beautiful thing about writing.

Don't be afraid of putting things you're currently dealing with in the story you're writing. It makes the story real and has the potential to make that story very powerful.

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