Writing tip: 'Write From Life Experience' says Deb Fitzpatrick
Advice from author Deb Fitzpatrick
By Erwin Cabucos
Writing from real life experiences is king. Deb Fitzpatrick, prolific author of children and young adult books from Western Australia, talks at the recent Brisbane Writer’s Festival on the importance of daily events in our life as rich materials for writing.
Fitzpatrick’s five books have been inspired by her observation and reaction to community events and news from the media, including her recent book ‘At My Door’. “I finished it in three months. I was motivated to write after a story about a toddler being left by strangers at the door of a family,” she recalls. She considers the thoughts and feelings of the receiving family, especially the primary-aged child within that family. What would she think about it? How would she handle having a new sibling coming in to the family from such a way?
In 2014, her young adult novel ‘The Break’ is a fictionalised version of the real event in Western Australia. It is motivated by the Gracetown limestone cliff collapse in 1996, putting perspectives of peoples and her experiences from living in the place a couple of years prior to the accident. “It was big in the news,” she recalls. This time, in the book she reveals a fictionalised character who has to deal with the issues of growing up and delving into the perspective about taking a path less travelled.
Perhaps the most exciting part of her teaching on using life experiences as writing materials and inspiration is her journey with completing the ‘The Amazing Spencer Gray’ (2013). The story was based out of a news report about a paraglider who met a tragic accident in Western Australia. “The glider was a teenage boy and I fictionalised it,” Fitzpatrick says. She mentions how she asked herself about the world and the thoughts of the glider. “What would he have felt, seen, whilst on air? I ended up doing gliding myself and researched with the WA Gliders Association.”
Having been shown how news materials and community events could become inspiration to start up a novel makes me realise how much information and materials I have overlooked. The masterclass session with Deb Fitzpatrick has also rekindled my knowledge on the importance of ‘what ifs’. Asking myself question: ‘what if I am that person in the news, what would I do?’ The act of personalising and putting myself in the shoes of another person is a skill that many actors and writers have to pursue. After all, the by-product of such endeavours rests in the notion of sharing human experiences, consuming the values and emotion tapped and being inspired and touched by the journey of another soul.
Writing is about people and lives, and thoughts, and experiences, and emotions, and transformations. This emphasis on change is pertinent to writing. Fitzpatrick advises that having a shift in the character’s world, even if it is only subtle, will leave significant effect to the narrative and to the experience of reading your novel. This may be applied to the events in the life of the character, such as marriage, graduation, leaving a place, moving on, etc.
It is also important that a writer has good writing bibles. In her case, Fitzpatrick recommends the following: ‘Everything I need to know about writing’ by John Marsden, and ‘Juicy writing’ by Brigid Lowry. She admits that from to time, a writer needs to consult an expert to overcome a particular challenge or question and the books from Lowry and Marsden she says have simply comprehensive information and guide she needs in creative writing. In saying this, however, she warns writers not to lose their own voice and maintain their manner of telling the narrative. It can be easy to get influenced by the way other writers write, but ultimately, she advises that our own voice should permeate in our writing.
Finally, a word of encouragement from the master: simply write. Fitzpatrick recognises responsibilities in work and family commitments that encroach and can take away focus, but advices to remain focused. The tendency to be tempted to dip into bits and pieces and achieving nothing significant in the end is easy to fall into, but if we remain focused, even if we only have thirty minutes to devote daily, we will likely to build big construction in the end. The issue is not time, it is focus. Set your mind to the goal of writing and completing that novel, do it and you will, in the end, have something done.