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This Writing Life: The Fascination of Other Writers’ Lives

1 September, 2011

As an unpublished writer, I spend a lot of time looking at the websites and blogs of published authors. It always pays to be informed, after all. What new books are coming out? What sort of writing tips does this author give? Do they give contact details for an agent I might be interested in submitting to? All of this is valid and useful information for a new writer to be searching for, but I’ve found that there’s one particular part of authors’ websites that I always head to first: their bio page.

These can range, it seems, from a couple of lines detailing when their first novel came out and where they live, to a thousand words of family history, career history, how they got published etc. etc. Either way, I find author bios fascinating. The same goes for details of their lives that appear in blog posts and on Twitter. Talk about new book releases and competitions frequently turns me off – finding out how many words they wrote that morning or where they went on holiday is much more interesting.

Now, before this all sounds far too creepy, let me get to the point. I’ve realised there are two reasons why I’m so fascinated by other writers’ lives. The first is almost business-like. I love to know how they first got published, who by, who their agent is: maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to follow a similar path to publication. Likewise, details of writing habits, and what software they use, and where they work might give me some tips to increase my own productivity. All writers work differently, and some methods will be so far apart as to be incompatible, but listening to and learning from other writers is a great way to make your own work better.

Then we get to the other bit: the eating habits and holidays and the like. This time, it’s a fascination not just with other writers, but with everyone. These seemingly meaningless minutiae are exactly the sort of facts you need to create convincing characters. What does my character like to eat for breakfast? Where’s his ideal holiday? What would he do if he won the lottery? And what, most crucially, do these little questions reveal about his personality – his hopes and fears, childhood and dreams for the future? Studying the lives of real people, be they famous historical figures or someone you’ve just met online, can add all sorts of fuel to the creation of your own characters.

So many parts of our lives are like this: filled with little hints and clues, ideas and possibilities that can make our writing stronger, more realistic, more believeable. Some carry whole stories in and of themselves. Learning to look for them all the time takes practice, but it’s also incredibly rewarding – even if it does start with reading on Twitter what someone had for breakfast.

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