We Write from Experience

by Gregory A. Kompes

I have always considered myself to be a “student of life.” Back in my early twenties, this was because I’d chosen to drop out of college to be a musician. For a decade I traveled a lot of the world playing music.

Later, after I discovered music didn’t pay enough to actually live, I had day jobs in PR, finance, and banking.

That launched me back into school (because the day jobs paid for it!) And, I began my pursuit of a writing career. Since that first degree, I’ve gone on to get two others, including an MFA in Creative Writing.

Possibly more importantly, I’ve continued to travel the world and have lots of experiences in the process. Just recently, I hugged a sloth in Honduras and wandered the Lamanai Maya ruins and climbed the tallest Maya temple ever discovered.

There’s an old adage that we should write what we know. I’m happy to challenge that notion. With a bit of research we can learn about anything. And, with a bit of effort, we can certainly put ourselves into the shoes of a character who does things we would never do.

But, still, we hear: write what you know.

I don’t think this applies to only writing about out personal experiences. Instead, we need to find the emotional connections our characters experience and those we derive from our own emotional experiences.

And, yet, there’s still something important to be said about having as many personal experiences as we possibly can. We should see and hear and taste and touch and experience as much of the world as we possibly can. We should visit locations far and wide and then write them into our books and stories.

Make it a goal to have experiences that are worth writing about. Because, while you can learn a lot about sloths from the Internet, there’s nothing like spending time hugging one, touching their thick, slightly oily fur, looking into their dark eyes and being warmed by their odd, smiling face, while being pricked by their long claws as they slowly and gently push them into you for balance and stability.

Me and the Sloth in Honduras, February 2020