Have you ever tried to write about a controversial issue and yet remain completely neutral? What about give a friend advice without first thinking about your own experience in the matter? Would you ever ask a mechanic their opinion on a car if they had little to no experience with working on cars? Or have you ever tried to get a job without first having experience in the field? Experience is important—for our jobs, for giving advice, for forming opinions, and also for writing books.
I’m sure many of you have heard many times that you need to write about what you know, and it’s very true. It would be difficult for an author to convince a soccer player they know anything about the sport if they have never kicked a ball around the field. So, naturally it makes more sense to write a book about a world famous soccer player if you first are in fact an avid soccer fan. But does lack of experience limit what we can write about?
Personally, I started writing novels at a fairly young age. I was only sixteen years old when my first book was completed. To say I had experience in many things was probably a stretch or maybe just a downright lie, so how was I able to write a novel?
Part of the reason I was able to write a novel was because I chose a subject matter that was applicable to kids my age. The basic format of The Mask is that of a fairy tale, and as anyone who has been an adolescent knows, romance and love (and what those things are) are a big topic for young adults. I know at the time I had a limited understanding of these topics but as I wrote I was able to further explore these ideas through my main character, Rose. As Rose came upon issues in her love life, I was challenged to look at my own life and answer her questions for myself before I could authentically formulate a scene that readers could really relate to. In this case my experience was gained as I wrote.
I have also noted that sometimes it is not my own personal experience that has influenced an idea or thought that I write about. Rather, it has been something that I have witnessed in the life of another. I once thought that if I wanted to do anything with my life and gain any life experience I would have to get out in the world and make a name for myself. Now, as I sit at home each day with my daughter and dog, I realize some of the experiences we have are not what we make for ourselves, but what God has placed in our lives. In fact, it wasn’t until after I gave up my ideas of becoming some big shot psychologist and had decided my life was more suited to that of a stay-at-home mom that God was able to work in my life to show me the themes and ideas that I needed to learn for my third book, The Mirror. Oddly enough, God did not use my own experience, but the heart-rending tragedy of a family close to my own.
I had been muddling my way through writing my third manuscript, but having a hard time finding the words to explain the pain someone feels when it seems God has abandoned them, or when God has done something that seems unloving and unfair. I had no experience with these notions. My life had been fairly easy so far. I hadn’t experienced any extreme challenges of faith or any real tragedy. That was when a close family friend told me that his niece, who was less than a year old, was dying of heart failure. In the next few months I witnessed surgeries and trials as this young girl fought a losing fight and eventually succumbed to the many problems that plagued her heart. But, what struck me most during this time was not the terrible tragedy of a child so young dying, but rather, the unswerving faith of the parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles of that little girl. It was from that moment on that I was able to understand what it meant to either blame God, or to trust God in our greatest tragedies.
There are many ways our lives can influence what we write. Simply sitting in a mall and watching the many antics and mannerisms of the people around us can improve our writing. But I think, more importantly, that God has given each one of us our own story to tell. Sometimes these stories may seem insignificant or mundane as I often thought life as a stay-at-home mom would be. Other times our stories may feel too tragic, too difficult, or too personal to tell. But by sharing what God has taught us, either through an autobiography, fiction, or a children’s tale, we can influence the culture around us and give glory to God for all the wonderful things he has done in our lives.
Cassandra Nywening lives in Chatham Ontario with her husband and daughter. She spends most of her time writing and taking care of the home. Though The Mirror is the last book in the Hidden Grace Trilogy, Cassandra has many more stories to tell.