Does Art imitate Life or does Life imitate Art? Like Yin and Yang or Twin Serpents eating each other’s tails, literature and life share an ambiguous push/pull relationship. But, interestingly, society seems to have this idea that all writers are recluses who shun the world. A mystical figure that has retreated from the world to write about the Truths they have found, like an enlightened monk or a wise, old hermit.
But… is that really accurate?
I can see where this visual came from. If you were to look at us when we are actually putting pen to paper (well, fingers to keys these days), it does seem that way. A quiet room, maybe a cup of coffee or tea at our elbow, eyes closed in reflection or eyebrows furrowed in a tense, still concentration. But though writers take time to step back from the bustle of life, no writer can be effective until he has first stepped into his life. William Shakespeare, Murasaki Shikibu, Earnest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, J.R.R. Tolkien…writers may not wait until they have lived to start writing, but almost all great writers’ memorable works come from truths they found from living their lives.
Your Story Can’t Come to Life Before You Do
In addition to finding something worth saying, living your life is essential before you can successfully convey your ideas to an interested audience. That is because it is through living that we see what makes people tick, which is necessary to creating believable characters. No one will read your story if they don’t care about the people they find in it. If a writer locked himself away from the world, he would be limited in creating believable characters from traits he saw in himself or perhaps family members. But when you go out into the world, you are able to see and interact with people that, at first, you may not have been able to understand. But, as you spent more time around them, you began to see what motivated them, their values, and their priorities that are so very different from your own. Not only does this give you a deeper pool of personalities and characteristics to draw from, but, eventually, you might even learn how to create an experience where you can introduce yourself to a character unlike any you have ever met in our waking world, and yet make him believable and relatable enough to introduce him to others in a meaningful way.
Life and Art do indeed imitate and shape each other. Just like a mirror affects your appearance. You see your reflection and use that to change what you see until your appearance is closer to what you desire. But though the mirror may have some power over the person in it, the mirror has nothing to reflect without the life you bring it. Live. Then Write.