#5. Eat the World
A series of contradictory but mostly sensible writing lessons for kids, business folks, teachers, ninjas, bankers, and other humans.
Before I explain the next writing tip, please consider this brief message from our sponsor…
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Anyway, back to the latest tip:
Eat the world.
The phrase isn't mine. I thought it belonged to a really old poet, but it might have originated with Shel Silverstein. Or we could just give it to Einstein or Picasso - those two will say anything these days.
To me, this idea of eating the world is about going out there and truly embracing experiences, swallowing up new ideas and interactions, sights and scenes and feelings. Right, but how does this relate to writing?
Experiences are fuel for your stories. Or maybe they’re the spice? I’m not sure.
Here’s an example.
A year or so ago we had chickens. They smelled. The rooster was the meanest, angriest dude on the block. When I was home alone, he’d stand at our door, or on the railing outside the kitchen, and stare in through the window with this look that said, “That’s my house, punk. What are you doing in there? Why don’t you come out here and tell me why you shouldn’t be living in that filthy coop with those birds?”
He charged at small children. He’d run away and terrorize our neighbors. The kids were terrified of him. And he was making me feel increasingly inadequate at a financially sensitive time in my life. Did he actually deserve the house? Would he do a better job providing for my family? Would his books sell more copies?
At some point, one of our neighbors kindly informed us that she had some friends who would be more than happy to take our chickens, and the rooster, if we liked.
Getting the chickens ready for transport on the appointed day was tricky, but my twelve-year-old and her two friends had their hockey equipment at the house, so they got all geared up and we chased the chickens and the rooster for about an hour until we wrangled them all into the makeshift cage we’d built in the back of my pickup. I drove slowly, as there was some risk of the cage, and the chickens, blowing away, but soon we were pulling off the main road and toward our destination.
The dirt driveway turned past rusting, derelict cars and trucks before leading to a house that looked like it belonged in the Black Forest. Three septuagenarian siblings lived inside. None of them had ever married. Their home was a single room downstairs - living and room and kitchen - and a single bedroom upstairs. Piles of old VHS cassettes and stacks of newspaper lined the entryway. Outside, two huge, complex aviaries housed a collection of birds, including chickens, guinea hens, and ducks. The siblings had built everything themselves, and the woodwork was beautiful. Our birds were happy.
The siblings invited us inside to see the house, and the girls all looked at me skeptically, because we were a little worried our hosts were cannibals. But I was quite a bit taller than the siblings, and the girls still had their hockey gear on. Plus, these girls were tough. I figured that if things went south, the four of us could take the three old-timers. One of the brothers looked unsteady on his feet, so I had dibs on him; I’d let the girls handle the other two.
There was no battle; the situation was entirely pleasant. The siblings made tea. We sat around the old samovar in the center of the room and admired the hand-carved stairs. The siblings were very happy that I identified the device as a samovar - that’s why you read Russian novels, kids. One of my daughter’s friends - normally the most talkative of the bunch - said nothing the whole time, and after some very pleasant conversation, we emerged alive, and chicken-free, and slightly disappointed in ourselves that we believed the three siblings were cannibals.
What does this have to do with writing? Well, three months later I repurposed this experience and turned it into a chapter, and made the siblings key characters, in the sequel to my Atlantis novel.
This happens all the time. Experiences generate stories. They feed them. They help you add something extra or unique to existing pieces of writing. What Picasso called eating the world is an essential part of telling good stories.
So get out there and eat the world.
Thanks again to our generous sponsor, and if you’ve enjoyed what you’d read so far, please share with your friends, colleagues, and roosters. Next week we’ll talk about outlines. Or exclamation points. Stay safe and be nice to people.