There is a saying:
Learning to write well is learning to live well.
Okay, okay. I made that up. I thought it would sound better if I called it a ‘saying’, but I am sure that others have said something similar.
A few weeks ago while working on my newest WIP, I put observation skills into practice and wrote a scene involving a piece of candy.
Out came a shiny, foil-wrapped hard disc. K unwrapped the rustling cellophane and placed the bright red candy into C’s mouth. Surprised, C worked the cinnamon lozenge up and down inside her mouth, the spicy sweetness melting in a sugary warm glaze. She swallowed, wanting to spit the candy out but enjoying the first real taste in as long as she could remember. Back in her little rooms with her nurse, she had eaten only the plainest of meals. Oatmeal with a little milk. Dry cereal. Toast, sometimes with a wisp of butter.
As I wrote the experience of tasting this piece of candy, the “sugary warm glaze” contrasted with the “plainest of meals”. I was surprised to find myself wishing for a real piece. Me? I enjoy sweets, but hard candy has never been my favorite. I prefer something soft and chewy, like taffy or cookies. This scene, however, made me lick my lips and *almost* taste the slowly melting cinnamon candy. Mm.
A while later, a friend and I met for lunch. After a wonderful meal of conversation and laughter, we paid our checks and went to the door. I ducked down to pick up one of the cellophane-wrapped hard candies that the restaurant offered for customers. My friend did the same, and as we went outside I popped the butterscotch candy into my mouth. Even if hard candies aren’t my favorite, they are a nice way to cleanse the palate after a spicy, pungent meal.
As the first taste of that butterscotch began melting onto my tongue, I nearly stopped walking. My taste buds and my tongue reveled in the sugared glory, and my entire mind and body focused on the creamy sweetness.
I’m not really a candy person, but in an instant this piece of candy had transported me into the pages of my latest WIP. I was the heroine, recovering from a long and debilitating illness and able to taste something real for the first time since I could remember. My world narrowed to the moment when sugar enveloped me in a mist of security and comfort. The slightly stale ribbon candy my grandmother would offer every time I visited, the cotton candy of a child’s first visit to the circus, and the melting chocolate of a truffle selected after a week’s quest to find the perfect Belgian chocolate.
If I hadn’t written that scene about the character savoring the candy, I wouldn’t have reacted so strongly to eating a piece of real candy a week or two later.
As I walked down the wooden steps to the parking lot, the sun was warmer and brighter than usual. The air was fresher, the trees and grass greener. It’s all a lot of cliches, but in that minute between putting the candy into my mouth and walking out of the restaurant to get into my car…something magical happened.
I became so fully present in the moment that something as insignificant as the candy could transport me to a place of utter joy. Joy at being alive.
The skills that we practice as writers (whether we are publishing our 100th book or happily writing a few lines for our own amusement only) are skills that we need to live.
To write well, we must first learn how to live well.
Live well, my friends. (and prosper…)