Adding Experience to Writing

One way to add realism to your writing is to go out and experience things. Ride your bicycle, take a hike, go camping. In my case, I like to ride my motorcycle.

Now, motorcycle riding requires a wholly different skill set than some other sports. For one, the rider is out in traffic with very little protection. That by itself can scare the bejeezus out of most people. For another, as a rider, you are virtually invisible to most drivers. And that is where that different skill set comes in.

When I’m on my bike, a lot of my unconscious attention is spent anticipating what The Other Guy™ is going to do. I am also exposed to whatever Mother Nature decides to throw at me while I am on the bike—sun, wind, rain, (hopefully not) snow, and crappy road conditions just to name a few.

Motorcycle riding is a visceral experience. As I ride, I smell the blooming lavender or alfalfa field, my head snaps back as a bug hits me just above the glasses but below the helmet, my skin tightens as the wind drinks the moisture from my skin, and I watch for the next person who might pull out without seeing me on my two wheels.

I have spent the last twenty-something years riding my steel pony around the western United States. First Reader and I have put somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred thousand miles on our motorcycles over the last two-plus decades. More than once, either I’ve had to react without thinking, or I’ve seen my life flash before my eyes. Yet every year, I still don my leather skins, straddle a 1300cc engine, and experience the wind in my face. Some people think I’m crazy. At the same time, they wish they had the wherewithal to be so adventurous.

I look at it this way; when it’s time to get my ticket punched, it won’t matter what activity I’m engaged in, it’ll happen. I also know that I’m as safe as I can be while on my bike. Not trying to sound too “woo-woo,’ I’ve learned to trust my “sixth sense” (instincts? guardian angel?) when I ride. That angel saved my life on more than one occasion. I look at it this way, how can I be a writer without having a myriad of experiences to write about?

“Riding through the winding canyon and in the meandering stream in high mountain valley west of Cameron Pass, I begin to feel a calm that I hadn’t felt in months. Wind screaming past my ears, gritty air hitting my face, a twitch of the hips one way and then the other to negotiate a curve, invoke a feeling of flying.”

Copyright (C) 2015, JJ Shaun

That’s from a motorcycling blog I’ve kept when First Reader and I go on vacation on the motorcycles.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve had a story rattling around in my head for some time now. Well, part of that story involves riding a bicycle along a specific trail at night. I’m not sure about riding that trail at night, but I can still experience part of what the characters will face by riding the said trail. To get an impression for what it might feel like at night, well, I live Off the Beaten Path™, so I think I can get a sense of the ambiance at night in the (semi) wilderness.

I spent the last week on a working vacation in the Rocky Mountains, so I got to experience walking around at altitude. Even though I live at altitude, the air gets much thinner the higher up you travel. First Reader and I noticed something we hadn’t seen on any of our ski trips in the past—the resorts are now selling bottles of Oxygen, as in O2, in three convenient sizes.

We thought about it, let me tell you.

Now, I understand that a lot of writers are introverts and don’t do well with crowds. That’s fine. I can relate because I’m the same way. We found a solution, though. Go to some of those places in the off-season.

We managed to catch three major ski resort towns just after the season ended, but before a lot of businesses closed for cleaning and such but before the summer activities ramped up. The result was a quiet vacation without having to wait in line for restaurants or cash registers or deal with a bazillion people. The food was excellent, and the workers were affable and all but craving someone to talk to. And in most cases, the prices were reduced to deplete inventory. We found it a win-win.

I got to re-experience the nuances of lower oxygen at a higher altitude and how much that lack affects my breathing. I found myself huffing and puffing much more than at the Visible Means of Support™ (which is at a mere 5000 feet above sea level) and even at home (a bit further up the scale at close to 7000 feet). Spending the week walking around at around 9000 feet will definitely get one thinking about buying a bottle of oxygen just to feel “normal” for a minute or three.

The bottom line is that experience can add shades of texture to your writing. So, get out there and gather experiences. Get visceral with your prose.

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