Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Thinking like a writer yields more fulfilling life

When I was a junior in high school, I acted in a production of “Our Town,” Thornton Wilder’s classic play, in which a layer of sweet Americana conceals a core of pure human misery. In a key scene, the protagonist asks the omniscient narrator if anybody “realizes life while they live it.”

“No,” replies the narrator. “Saints and poets, maybe. They do some.”

It’s the poets, the writers and fabricators, with whom I am concerned today. As everybody who reads fiction with any regularity knows, there are certain elements that are crucial to a good story, and whose absence frequently causes a reader to “forget” to finish: compelling, realistic characters; a vivid setting; and a plot to move things along.

My philosophy of life has always been to live like I am writing myself in a story. I’ve tried a few philosophies, and this is the one that has brought me the best dividends. It allows for tremendous freedom while ensuring everything I do will be fruitful.

I’ve been a writer of fiction for many years, and I can’t help doing this; for most of us, it comes naturally, because––to some degree––we all got into this in order to rewrite our own lives. We knew that, if we learned to manipulate words well enough, it would grant us omnipotence: over another world, if not our own.

To live your life like a writer means to gather fascinating characters around you. We do this by seeking out dimensions in those we know, because everyone is a compelling character: It is truly rare to meet somebody who is boring to the depths of their soul. We love the characters in our lives not despite their flaws, but because of them, because flaws make a character all the more lovably human.

To write your life means that you put extra effort into establishing your setting. You’ll need to make sure that you notice details––not every detail, of course, because that detracts from other stuff, but just enough to make the place in which you live a player in your day-to-day actions. If you build your setting well enough, it can become like a character, and you’ll never feel alone.

If you write your life, it’s got to have a plot. Some people think all lives have one out of necessity, and there’s some truth to that, but all plots can stagnate. It’s our responsibility, as writers real or metaphorical, to add incident to them. If you just let things happen to you––or worse, let nothing happen at all––nobody will believe you as a protagonist.

If you write your life, you’ll find it far easier to pass through hard times, because you’ll know that nobody wants to read a story in which everyone is happy all the time. Complication, as I once heard it described, is when an author makes things as bad as they can possibly be, and then worse. Everyone has had weeks where they feel like a cosmic writer is messing with them. Ultimately, though, you are the cosmic author––and if you can learn to take pain not as tragedy but as catharsis, you’ll ensure the best outcome for yourself.

There is no greater joy than agency, from which all other joys follow. Under this philosophy, whether you choose to indulge your passions or live frugally, to have globetrotting adventures or to build a rewarding life at home, you will be beholden to only one idea: making sure your novel, for which you are author, audience and protagonist, doesn’t make you fall asleep. +


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    anonymousApr 11, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Sam, this is thought provoking and extremely well-written, as is everything you write. I really enjoy reading your pieces, be they Pio articles or facebook statuses. Keep it up!