My best friend has always been kind of secretive about his love life. We’ve known each other for over 20 years and it’s only since I’ve started writing that he’s begun sharing his adventures (and misadventures) in the dating world. Why is he opening up now? Well, he prefaces every story about sketchy dudes on Grindr or awkward encounters with former boyfriends and their new lovers with: “Here’s some research material for you …”
I love it. His stories are hilarious and fascinating and way outside my own dating experience. And because he now sees everything he does as potential plot fodder for me (even though it’s really not relevant at all to my current WIP), he no longer guards this part of his life quite so jealously. Because he sees every experience, every encounter, as research material, I’ve started looking at my own life in the same way.
I believe I’ve mentioned before that I have some pretty darn strong hermit tendencies. One would think that writing would make those even stronger, but I’ve found that it’s the opposite. A high school acquaintance is getting married in Las Vegas? I have to go. It’s research. An old friend offers to buy me a plane ticket to Tennessee because he’s feeling nostalgic? Research. A spring-time hike with people who are much fitter and more adventurous than I am? Research! None of these things are directly related to anything I’m writing. I can’t use them as tax deductions. But they’re all things that I’ve done in the last year that scared me, where my immediate inclination was to say “Thanks, but no. I’m good. I’ll just sit here in my cabin with my cats and quietly continue to age.”
Two weeks from today I’ll be in Chicago for my ten year law school reunion. I am terrified and, honestly, if I wasn’t a writer now, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But there are loads of people and experiences there waiting for me. I will reconnect with people whose lives have diverged sharply from my own. I’ll eavesdrop on conversations about nannies and the pressures of being a law firm partner. I’ll drink wine at the Art Institute while chatting with people comparing working in the White House with working for the NFL. I’ll get on the El and be reminded of the press of bodies during a morning commute. I’ll sit in the back of a cab and remember what it feels like to be pushed up against a giggling friend on naugahyde-covered broken springs by the force of a quick left turn. It’s life. It’s research.
What about you? Have you found that writing has changed the way you look at new experiences? Ever justified doing something outside of your comfort zone as research?