One of the nice things about being a writer is the opportunity to go to places you wouldn’t normally go to and experience things you wouldn’t normally experience, all in the name of research.
Julia Cameron refers to this process of seeking of new experiences as ‘filling the well’ of creativity and considers it an essential aspect of a creative life.
If she is right, that gives us authors carte blanche to do pretty much whatever we want.
But, hey, why not? We only live once (as far as we know) and we might as well make the most of it.
I was tempted to apply for a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust fellowship grant recently. They were looking for writers to go to Antarctica for three months, and what a great opportunity it would have been.
Or would it? I love penguins as much as the next person but I’m not sure I want to spend three months in their company. Okay, there would probably have been a few scientists and oil speculators and maybe even another ‘creative person’ thrown in too, but even that didn’t quite swing it for me. Had it been three months in the Caribbean, well, obviously that would have been another story. But looking back I actually think I should have gone. It would have taken me out of my comfort zone and although being out of your comfort zone is by definition uncomfortable, (and in this case possibly rather chilly,) it is no bad thing for a writer. Or for anyone else come to that.
To a greater or lesser degree we all tend to get stuck into a pattern of living. But in order to write convincing and entertaining fiction most of us need to experience more than our ordinary day to day lives. We shouldn’t dismiss out of hand art that challenges our taste. It’s good sometimes to see films we wouldn’t normally choose. At the very least we should read books that aren’t written by our top twenty favourite authors.
The other week I found myself lying flat on my back (on a specially provided mat) in the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate to try to experience Edmund de Waal’s concept of ‘skying’. To be honest, I’m not quite sure I got completely into the spirit of it, although it was rather nice to have a little lie down after a hard day’s socialising. But perhaps that was the part of the point. Lying down on the floor of a crowded public space is not something I have ever done before and it was a strangely exhilarating experience.
Of course you don’t have to be a writer to try to experience life more fully, there are benefits for everyone. On a macro level encouraging a more open and understanding viewpoint is surely good for society, but on a private level it is surprising what pleasure can be gained from even the smallest attempt to pop something new into the creative well.