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Is Experience Key?

Lately I have heard or seen this statement a multitude of times: writers crave the experience. Maybe it's because I've spent the last two weekends binge watching Girls, the HBO show created by Lena Dunham, that I feel like this "truth" is being hammered into my head. Hannah, Dunham's character, often does things (mostly sexual) for "the experience". You see, Hannah is a writer. In the first season she is working on a book of essays. Not being one who writes essays, I can only assume they are like her journal entries all put into one book of like reflections for the masses to consume.

Maybe "masses" is too broad a term. For a select group of people may be better. Though, I believe Lena Dunham's memoir, which she signed a $3.5 million deal with Random House in 2012, is still sitting at #16 on Amazon's bestselling essays list. I suppose more people than I imagined are sitting around reading essays.

They're just not my thing.

But what about experience? I've always believed I have very little. My experience is limited to being married at 17 and raising 3 children. I've been a few places in my adult life; the Bahamas in 2002 where a man tried to get me to take a walk with him on the very dark beach. Ummm... No, and Nashville in 2011 where I stayed in my hotel room the entire time because the two guys that were with me (in separate rooms, people. Jeez) were too boring to go out after class. How do you not go out in Nashville? It's Nashville!

Anyway, so my experiences have been limited. Does this hinder my writing? Do writers crave experiences? Even the bad ones?

I think we do, to a degree. It's not that we want to go through the hard stuff. Who does that? But we want to know how it feels in order to write more clearly about it. In order to say, "Hey, I know what I'm talking about."

So is this inherent craving...presumed craving why I feel restless at least once a year? Is this my creative brain screaming at me, "Give me something to work with!" Or is it an inevitability in life that a human being will be restless at least once a year?

I've never written about the time in the Bahamas when, after belting out You're the One that I Want with my mom and sister at the bar, I stepped outside for some air and knew the waiter would follow me. He'd been watching our table for more than half an hour. I knew he would follow any of us outside. I just happened to be the one who needed air. This experience did not translate to a story on the page.

So do we need experiences as much as we crave them?

Maybe it's a middle of the road thing. I have experience with an over sexualized childhood, heartbreak, immense love, and crippling social anxiety. I have experience with watching a human being die, his heart beat dropping and finally ceasing long after he'd checked out of this world. I have experience with watching a human life be born, and with birthing several. I have experience with losing a fetus after hearing a strong heartbeat, all because my body broke down. Putting them all together, I guess I have a wealth of experience, though they are not the experiences I thought I would have. As a pre-teen discovering my talent for creating stories, I thought I would live what Hollywood told me a writers life is. I thought it would be me against the world, traveling and gathering experiences, telling stories. But I'm no free spirit, not in that way. I have no desire to stuff all of my belongings into the backseat of my car and drive away.

Not anymore.

It's easy to dream of running away when times are hard, or the kids are screaming at one another, but I think the idea of living free is better suited for someone in their 20s, someone who still believes they can take on the world. The closer I get to 40, the more I realize I need to work with the world. It's not about conquering it, it's about living in it.

Maybe it's not a lack of experience that hinders the writer (or the story). Perhaps it is growing up and realizing we can't tell the same stories we always have. It's time to change the narrative, if you will. After all, incidences in life don't, necessarily, give one experience. To do something once is simply a one off. Yes, you experienced that moment, but it didn't lead to experience.

Maybe I'm way off. Or maybe I am all over the place. But for me, at least, I believe I have become a stronger writer (though perpetually crippled by my lack of success) because I have experienced this life; my life. It isn't the same life I might have had if I'd gone to college straight out of high school and moved to a big city, but anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a city girl. Give me a population of 3,000 and I am moderately happy, though I would prefer a population of 1,500.

With everything else, I suppose there is no clear answer to my quandary. Some might tell me experience is everything to a writer, and I wouldn't be able to disagree. I guess it's all in what you consider experience to be.

What are your thoughts?


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