When I was a student actor, we learned different techniques for creating a character. The two most popular methods at the time were, in simple terms: starting from the outside; or starting from the inside. In other words, an actor could begin to create a character by trying to look like the person, move like the person, and sound like the person. Or, the actor could first try to get inside the head and emotions of the character, which in theory would then translate to an appropriate physical manifestation.
I have found that I must make similar choices, when I write. Where do I begin? How do I proceed? What do I envision as the end product? And, I have discovered that my approach to writing is strikingly similar to that of my acting. Although I explore a variety of creative stimuli during the writing process, I usually begin with something outside myself. I have always been a dedicated observer of people. Once I began to write, I started to pay more attention to places. Recently I added “experiences” to my toolkit. I now regularly seek out new activities. I would not be able to do that, if I remained in my quiet Toronto neighbourhood. I also keep in mind that if I don’t take advantage of an opportunity when it’s available, I might never get another chance.
Aldous Huxley said, “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.” That statement can of course be broadly applied to life, but I try to keep it in mind for my future writing projects. Within the last year I have had several fun experiences that might effectively jump-start my creative juices. I learned how to play golf in the Coachella Valley of California. When I teed off on the first hole, my ball hit a palm tree and disappeared, never to be found. I later drove across the desert, maneuvered the death-defying roads around Sedona, and stood awe-struck on the edge of the Grand Canyon.
During my most recent trip to Japan I was determined to step out of my comfort zone. That resulted in my exploration of Tokyo without the security of my Japanese-speaking host. I watched Kabuki live for the first time, and was impressed by the passion of the Japanese people for their classical dance-drama. I ate at sushi-go-round and teppanyaki restaurants, and found delicious even the grilled heart with garlic. My most memorable new exploit was when I traveled up the side of a mountain just outside Kyoto, and spent the afternoon lounging naked in a public hot spring.
When trying out personal experiences as raw material for creative work, perhaps the most significant benefit is that you get the whole package: all the senses are stimulated; you are able to interpret everything intellectually; you react on an emotional level; and you have the memory of the real event. Albert Camus explained it by saying, “You cannot create experience. You must undergo it.”
As I sit at my desk with the leaves making their colourful descent, I am ready for the long winter ahead. I have a wealth of memories and material to not only keep me warm, but also to keep me busy.
Visit my website: www.lizbugg.com