Personal Experiences Impacting Writing, a question posed & answered

Today’s post is in answer to a question sent me by Evie Alexis, a generous fellow writer on Absolute Write, a fantastic forum which, if you’re a writer, you ought visit.  Each month, a few writers from AW form a Blog Chain, with each writer asking another one question to feature on their blog.  Here’s Evie’s question and my answer:

What personal experiences, if any, do you bring to your writing?

My take on everything in life is you get what you put in.  The same goes for writing.  That doesn’t mean if you give something your all that you’ll achieve your goal.  But you’ll have tried your damnedest, and that in itself means you’ve grown as a human being.  The promise we deliver on inside ourselves is the most important promise of all.

Over a decade ago my father tried to teach me something.  He told me, apropos of what, I can’t recall: “Success is about having glue in your ass.”

Stick-to-it-iveness.

After years of meandering and wandering, I finally have it.  And I’ll tell you exactly how I got it.  I got it from my love of languages.

I used to think my pattern of falling wholesale in love with a culture and its language was an unsophisticated, romantic failing of mine.  But however sophisticated it might or might not be, it has definitely taught me some really useful transferable skills.

Like writing a novel, learning a language requires:

1.    FOCUS
2.    DEDICATION: it’s a long-term commitment
3.    PRACTICE
4.    PATIENCE with oneself
5.    DRIVE; you’ve got to love it with the passion of a rising sun
6.    FEARLESSNESS: a willingness to make mistakes in public, and to be constantly trying to say something you’ve never said before
7.    CREATIVITY
8.    DEVOTION OF TIME: this means making time, not just taking time.  While others sleep, I work.
9.    CONSTANCY of attention
10.  SELF EXPRESSION

But I can’t stop short of saying one more thing on this matter.

Those of us with abundant opportunities often don’t recognize what we have.  I was born lucky.  I was born to parents who valued education, and made sure I got a good one.  I was valued for who I was, and not limited by my home cultures because of my gender, race or religion.  My parents valued reading, and weekly trips to the library were a norm, growing up. There were libraries where I grew up–that’s a perk too.  My parents also taught me to respect others, and to be curious of the world we live in.  I traveled with them, and later, alone, too.  I learnt, thanks to them, three languages.  Later, I’d learn more.  I’ve never lived above a middle-class level, and never higher than middle middle-class.  But while I’ve never known boundless money, I’ve never starved.  I went hungry for a while in between jobs once.  I feared being evicted while I desperately searched for reliable income.  But I had, even then, family and friends whom I knew I could turn to if finally my pride needed an overhaul.

My brain works.  My limbs still do; my organs too.  My fingers can type or write.  I have my sight and my hearing, and even more importantly, I have a love of life and of beauty.  This thrills me.  Somehow, even at my lowest moments, I am happy.  I consider that some sort of chemical balance that I’m very lucky to have.  Mind you, that was a conscious decision I made, too, around the age of 16.  To love life.

My point:  I’ve sought to connect with people, here and there and in between.  Like you, I’ve seen into the eyes of people I care about, as well as those whom I could rather happily never see again.  And I know we can’t take for granted these things that allow us to even think of writing.  To even think it’s worth something.  To be able to cogently express ourselves.  To take the luxury of writing.

So to answer your question on what experiences I bring to my writing.  Firstly, my luck (or the grace of God).  Secondly, my parents.  And thirdly, my love affair with language, which has taught me, finally, at a ripe age, what dedication, focus and drive are all about.

The rest, as they say, is commentary.  🙂

**

So now it’s my turn to shoot a question for the next person in line, Lady Cat.  My question for you is:

When you look at the world, what do you see as the key motivating forces behind people’s actions, and when you look at your writing, do your characters’ motivations match these?  If not, why do you feel there’s a difference–is there a question you’re resolving through your work, or is it the specifics of those particular motivations which calls you more?

Other AWers participating in this month’s blogroll include:  ClaireCrossdalerazibahmedaimeelainebsolahdnicJamieMTLiliCrayealexisLady CatProachSimranlostwanderer5Forbidden SnowflakecoryleslieAngyl78BookdragonetteRavenCorinnCarluk

Picnic Tables on a Frozen Lake

Picnic Tables on a Frozen Lake

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About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. After a decade in international development, democracy work, and inclusivity training for domestic NGOs, I joined Peace Corps, and after a year, experienced my first Russian invasion. I followed that up by volunteering with refugees and youth, and after some vacation time climbing minarets and mountains, I returned to New York City, where today I work on social justice with college students, produce short films, and write.
This entry was posted in Absolute Write, appreciating life, books, libraries, life impacting writing, literacy, luck, writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

38 Responses to Personal Experiences Impacting Writing, a question posed & answered

  1. evie says:

    Hey, great post. You really delved into this question and brought it to a level I couldn’t imagine possible. Gave me a few things to mull over.

  2. Razib Ahmed says:

    Although I was born and have passed my life in a poor third world city with lack of basic facilities, I was lucky enough to have a library within 300 meters of my home when I was child. I used to go there from the age of 6 and I loved to read a lot of newspapers. I think that it has helped me more than anything else to become a writer.

    • sputnitsa says:

      Yes, literacy and access to books–as well as nurturing adults who support reading–are huge. Those of us who have that or who had that growing up, are so lucky.

      This is one reason why literacy-based community service programs are so important to me. Plus, of course, on a purely mercantile level, higher levels of literacy are linked to better employment opportunities.

      One can spread the wealth by spreading literacy.

  3. This post could not have been more beautifully written.

    I could relate to this part very well: ” I have a love of life and of beauty. This thrills me. Somehow, even at my lowest moments, I am happy. I consider that some sort of chemical balance that I’m very lucky to have. Mind you, that was a conscious decision I made, too, around the age of 16. To love life.”

    That’s how I feel inside, and you captured it with such eloquence.

  4. Carol says:

    What a wonder and well thought-out answer! To be self aware enough at the age of 16 to choose “to love life” is quite an accomplishment. I’m sure it stands you well in all aspects of your life, not just your writing.

  5. ralfast says:

    I keep missing these. Oh well. Great post as always.

  6. Jamie says:

    Wonderful insights! I think that’s the key…we have to “choose” to love life, and be happy. It’s not something that’s just going to happen.

    Sounds like you’ve had some wonderful experiences. I’m always in awe of people who speak several languages. I can’t even imagine how much that must open up for you.

    Thanks so much for sharing with us!

    • sputnitsa says:

      Thanks, Jamie!

      Yeah, I get pinpricks of disappointment when I hear people speak as if “when x happens” things’ll be great and they’ll be happy. We don’t have the future to count on. We have only the present. And it’s full, full of everything. Full of sad and bitter and lovely and good. A full cup of life has both happiness and sadness. Loving that we get that sip and this moment to live it, to drink it, means accepting both.

      Oh, I wish I could speak all my languages well! Hahaha! I must have posts already about some of my catastrophic mistakes. But the mistakes are part of the pleasure of language. Maybe that’s the difference between learning a language and writing a book. When you mess up with a language, hilarity ensues. When you mess up in writing, edits ensue. And in my case, coffee too. 🙂

      Thanks for coming by and thanks for your kind and great comment 🙂

  7. This is a fantastic post, and so very positive. 🙂 It’s wonderful to see such positive outlook of life and of writing, and I love this post because you make those who read it realise that we all have plenty of uncounted blessings in life too.

    • sputnitsa says:

      I’m so happy to hear that, because we do. We could fill our hearts with all these treasures and we’d be busting with happiness and hope and appreciation. There’s so much we don’t even realize we have.

      I seriously think joining Peace Corps earlier only helped me integrate this sense into my core self, if you know what I mean.

  8. It sounds like you had parents who cared enough about you to actually raise you. You’re very lucky.

    My parents were similar to yours in that respect, though I didn’t learn other languages. I feel bad for kids who aren’t given the encouragement to learn and explore. They end up missing so much.

    • sputnitsa says:

      You’re so right, Raven!

      I hadn’t expected this at first, but this post is making me want to give my parents a huge hug and find them a wonderful heartfelt gift…write them a card.

      I feel the same way about children who don’t have these opportunities and the encouragement. You know, there are opportunities ALWAYS for those of us with the wherewithal and commitment, to volunteer in our communities. There are organizations out there connecting kids with mentors–girls with babies, kids out of prison, kids with incarcerated parents, etc. We can all help one another.

      And where there isn’t something already in place, if you have the energy and dedication, you can find a way to make something happen. Contact a youth-based organization, see if they’re flexible enough to support something you want to do. Or start your program or group. 🙂

  9. Simone O says:

    I enjoyed your answer and your blog, lovely and candid.

  10. matthewgraybosch says:

    The ten things you found necessary for learning a spoken language are traits I’ve needed when learning to play a musical instrument or a new programming language. I need them to be a loving husband. I suspect that they’re universal requirements for anything in life worth doing.

    • sputnitsa says:

      🙂 So it turns out my father was right. I just had to live life a bit longer to realize what he meant. 🙂

      Would you add any other necessary qualities to the list? Or make any other modifications?

      • matthewgraybosch says:

        There is one thing I could add, a quality that makes the ones you’ve already listed possible. You need to be selfish. You need to be able to say to yourself, “This is what I want, and I am going to have it no matter what. If God Himself tries to stop me, I’ll kick His ass.” You have to be willing and able to defy people who tell you to put aside your desire.

  11. matthewgraybosch says:

    By the way, I’ve added Notes of a Scribbler to my blogroll.

  12. dnic says:

    Oh that’s lovely. =] I think a lot of people don’t realize exactly how much choices we’re given. And there are small blessings in our lives that we tend overlook. The ability to see things through is definitely a good thing. It’s easy to start something, much harder to finish it.

    • sputnitsa says:

      🙂 Thanks, Dnic!

      My favorite quote about discipline is the one that stays focused on giving what you need to to achieve what you want:

      “Discipline is remembering what you want.” ~ David Campbell

      And yeah, for writing a book, WHOAH but does one need discipline! 🙂

  13. sputnitsa says:

    Matthew, I had to smile at that one. Yes, in the face of being told you can’t, etc, you have to smile and say, “Watch me.”

    🙂 It’s amazing, once you have that purpose, what you can achieve.

    It’s a choice to put your own strongest intention above distractions, both the ones you throw at yourself (TV, relaxing, bringing work home, whatever) and the ones others want from you (the same, etc). Then again, one also needs balance. Whatever that is. 🙂 Haha!

    Oh, I enjoyed your blog, and thanks for adding mine, too. I checked out several of your posts and know I’ll be back again. 🙂

    • matthewgraybosch says:

      Oh, I’ve never been one to say “Watch me.” I prefer “Try to stop me”; or, if I’ve been spending too much time inside Morgan Stormrider’s head: “Who are you to oppose me?”

      As for my blog; I expect that there will be more to check out soon enough. 🙂 I’m also on AW now.

  14. CoryLeslie says:

    I loved your father’s quote. You are definitely blessed to have parents who guided you along!

  15. sputnitsa says:

    Matthew: Heh, I don’t like to tempt fate, so I don’t dare her to take me on. I just press on that ole accelerator and make for my goal 🙂

    I like your new version of your saying, though. Every time I re-read Lord of the Rings, I want to greet people like they did: “Hail, Riders of the Subway! What news of the G train?” 🙂

    Welcome to AW!

    • matthewgraybosch says:

      Well, I have a bit of a reckless streak that manifests at inconvenient times. I’m usually very careful and deliberate, but when I see an obstacle between me and my goal my first impulse is to break out the explosives. 🙂

      I don’t mind tempting fate. Somebody has to, or the poor lady would eventually get bored and start causing trouble just to relieve the monotony.

  16. matthewgraybosch says:

    Don’t underestimate me. I can be selfish and considerate at the same time. It’s all a matter of motive. I’m considerate to others because it’s in my best interest to be so; I don’t do it primarily for others’ sake. 🙂

  17. “Stick-to-it-iveness”

    My new favorite word. It sums up everything I want to teach my children. No matter your situation, you can do it — you just can’t give up. I think we as a society are so prone to it that we forget to just keep at it.

    Kudos to you! What a great post!

    • matthewgraybosch says:

      Yeah, a lot people seem to ascribe to the belief that if at first you don’t succeed, say “fuck it all” and smoke some weed. They think it’s OK to fail, and not try to turn that failure into success.

      I’m tempted to blame the emphasis on self-esteem with which kids these days grow up, but I got a bit of that claptrap when I was doing time in elementary school. Fortunately, I didn’t get the full dose. Failing still hurts, it still pisses me off, and it still spurs me on.

      • sputnitsa says:

        If you think about it, it takes great fortitude, stubbornness, vision and faith in oneself to persevere when others say you can’t do something. That or arrogance and an inflated sense of self. 🙂 Or whatever mixture you want to pick.

        It also takes the guts to say to everyone: “THIS is what I am going to do. THIS is what I want.” If what you want isn’t simply the job that everyone thinks you ought to want. You know, just the next job on the ladder. To go your own way, constantly forging it, takes a little more…

        And when you’re visited by failure, lots of people will say, oh, you know, you tried. (Implying you’re good to let it go now.) It takes a lot of gumption for you to answer, “This? Oh, this ain’t the end. I’m not taking this hint. It’s going to have to bash me upside the head and call me dead before I give up.”

        I admire my friends who’ve worked in the performing arts for that reason… And to be honest, I admire anyone who as a young person already has that stick-to-it-iveness.

        When I was in Peace Corps, I tried to teach my kids stick-to-it-iveness and faith in self. I agree it’s such an important aspect of success in life…and as a human being 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      Yay! Thank you, Triangle, and I agree. It takes a while to develop fortitude. Some people are industrious and disciplined from a younger age, and I credit both their attitude and their parents’ success. I was lazy for a while until I realized discipline was the dividing line between success and waiting forever for something that couldn’t happen without work.

      That old Edison adage, you know: Most people don’t recognize opportunity because it comes dressed in overalls and goes by the name “work”. (Paraphrase)

      Listen, I LOVE your site! Are you a photographer there or a member of the board, or do you support the organization in some way? Thanks for coming by!

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