The Best Writers Stay Hungry

I recently saw a photo posted online by the mom of two kids who wouldn’t stop arguing. As punishment, the brother and sister had to wear the “Get-Along Shirt” for 20 minutes. The picture showed two teary-eyed, red-faced children in a XXL t-shirt that read We Will Get Along across the front of it.

It struck me that the human race has its own Get-Along Shirt. It’s called planet earth and there’s no getting out of it after 20 minutes.

Inevitably we come into contact with other human beings who have different perspectives, and different agendas, than ours. If you consume a lot of mass media and hang out with people who have that cynical/skeptical thing going on with their attitude, it’s easy to see the Get-Along Shirt of planet earth as a sort of punishment and squeeze your eyes shut until it’s over.

But writers don’t have that luxury.

As writers, our trade demands that we take advantage of every second in the Get-Along Shirt of planet earth and get to know whoever it is that’s doing time with us.

A writer can read every book on craft that exists, but if they haven’t taken the time to really try to understand other people on a deep level, it will show. It’s the difference between the expertly structured novel you read that makes you feel nothing, and the book that clutches you by the throat and drags you into a love affair with it. You know the kind of book I’m talking about. It’s the book you always hope is the next book you read, and the book you’ve never stopped dreaming you would one day write.

The only way you can get the chops to write this kind of book is through human experience. Meeting people, getting to know people, arguing with people, making up with people. Being delighted and surprised by people. And sometimes heartbroken by people.

If you are serious about reaching your full, brilliant, genius potential as a writer, you’ve got to be hungry to dive into the sea of humans around you, and you’ve got to stay hungry to learn as much about them as you can. What do they think? How do they talk? Where does the fear show up in their lives? Why and who do they love?

You can’t do this kind of work and remain unscathed. Getting dirty is a valuable part of the writer’s life. And when something disappoints you, give yourself some time and then come back to human experience even hungrier for it than before.

Open your eyes and look around you. Who are your partners in the Get-Along Shirt of this moment? Make the decision to accept them—all of them, whoever they are—and dedicate yourself to finding out whatever it is they have to teach you.

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10 Comments

  • Reply Daniela Ginta (@DanielaGinta) 16 January, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Well said, Lauren, thank you! This has been my subject of many talks with people lately. Almost everyone can write and that is nothing wrong with that but, ideally, it should be meaningful. The reason is, everything we do affects those around us. The ‘Get along’ shirt concept is as real as can be and it should invite to social consciousness because like you said, we share the living space…

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 16 January, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Thank you Daniela! I chose the image of the Get-Along Shirt because I totally saw myself in those crying kids. Frustrated, but sniffling and getting over it, and myself 😉

  • Reply Margit Sage 16 January, 2014 at 11:41 am

    Fun metaphor. And great advice.

  • Reply Catherine North 16 January, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    This is so true! And the great thing is that you don’t *have* to lead a particularly dramatic or unusual life to be an observer of human nature. I think just working in offices for fifteen years has given me a lifetime of material 🙂 Thank you for another inspiring post.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 16 January, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      Haha, I’ve worked in offices a great many years myself Catherine and you are SO right. It is an excellent place to gather material on other humans!

  • Reply Robyn LaRue 16 January, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    I can’t imagine what writing would be like if I wasn’t an observer of human nature and got to know a lot of different people. The writing is richer for it, but so am I as a person. 🙂 I saw that photo of the kids in the shirt. Good metaphor for sure. 🙂

  • Reply Setsu 17 January, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Sometimes I feel as though you and I are in the same shirt, whispering about the other nine people in there with us.

  • Reply Kara 19 January, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    Hi, I just started following your blog and I can attest to the writing. I also read one of your other blogs about INFJ writers, I think it was an article by someone else, but anyway, I can also attest, as I am an INFJ. I was an English major in college and was told by professors that I should write but doubted myself in that area. That was when I was about 19-22 or so, now I am age 39 and started writing about 2 years ago! Can you believe that? I just said to myself, go for it. I started putting my thoughts down and my ideas down on paper and now I will be finished with my book this year I think. I have a blog and another writing idea I have been tossing around as well. It is scary but I didn’t know I had it in me after all. Thanks for your articles.

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