Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Grist for the Mill

Old Mill, Oil Painting by Irene S. Kierce
Many years ago, I attended a talk given by Mary Higgins Clark at the Monmouth County Eastern Branch Library. I hung on every word for that was very early in my quest to become a published author. One thing she said--over and over--remains ingrained in my memory. She claimed everything in life is "grist for the mill." In other words, all the various situations we experience in life, whether good or bad, can be used in our fiction.

That does not mean a writer can jumble together a series of episodes and expect it to be a book. A novel has to make sense. It has to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most of the time, life doesn't make ANY sense, but fiction should lend the impression of reality. It is more real than real life.

When a writer has gone through a particular life experience, he or she can detail that time with such truth that it will resonate with readers. Writers are often told to write what they know. However, a writer doesn't have to break a leg to write about that type of pain. If the writer's sister broke her leg, the author would have a very good frame of reference to include that situation into his or her own story.

I don't have to get a divorce to understand the trial of that separation. I have friends and relatives who needed to vent when they were enduring the terrible dissolution of their marriage. I was a sympathetic listener. Really, that's all it takes.

Being a good listener is one of the best things an author can do to improve their writing. Everyone has stories to tell. If you want to put a mountain climber in your story, but you haven't climbed a mountain, find someone who has and would enjoy telling you about it.

Everyone's life experience can be your "grist for the mill." Keep your ears open. You could become a better writer.


MarkD60 said...

Beautiful painting of a crisp autumn day!

Penelope Marzec said...


Glad you like the painting. It is one my mother did a long time ago. :-)

Barbara White Daille said...

Great post! I agree that everything's grist for the mill, and I especially like your point that we don't have to experience something to write about the emotions connected to it.

Love the painting, too!

I met Mary Higgins Clark at a workshop in NYC (also many years ago). I was able to chat with her afterward, and even in conversation it's so clear she has the gift of storytelling.