Life Is Research

Cynthia Ruchti

Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

Life got in the way of my writing today.

Have those words crossed your mind lately?

Interruptions. Intrusions. Disrupted plans. Upheaval. Kids. Grandkids. Aging parents. Work. School. Volunteer responsibilities. Ordinary and relentless home maintenance…

Memories, good and bad. Failures and victories. Challenges met. Opportunities lost. Times of plenty and times of want.

Life gets in the way.

And life is what we write about.

Both statements are true. Consider how your portfolio of writing and your research files are growing because of the very things that sometimes frustrate your writing plans.

Yesterday, the afternoon I’d planned to spend writing turned into a short road trip with my husband. When we returned home, I noticed I had collected two pages of legal pad notes, a dozen photographs, insights about a quirky character who’d had me stumped, and scenes already developing in my head. I had to push away from my desk in order to gather the raw materials for constructing the story.

If you’ve been writing for more than a few months, you’ve probably already discovered that your sentences are beginning to fill with scent and taste memories, with a flash of recollection from decades ago, with a depth of color you noticed in your walk yesterday. That’s how we write. We walk through life observing, listening, asking questions, collecting, filling our pockets with experiences and sensations and impressions.

What is it about life that informs our writing?

Childhood.life and childhood

School experiences.

Work history and relationships in the workplace.

Home environment.

Family.

Friends.

Play.life and hobbies

Hobbies.

Travel.life and travel

Challenges.

Victories.

Books we’ve read.

life and moviesMovies we’ve seen.

Dreams.

Loves won and lost.

Adventures.

Misadventures.

And, yes, interrupted schedules.

The next time your writing intentions are interrupted by life, grab your notebook and a pen. Gather all the tidbits of sight, sound, taste, texture, emotion, color, and fragrances interwoven in the interruption. The information may not be needed for the book or article you’re working on right now. But it won’t be wasted.

What life experiences did you not realize at the time would influence what or how you write?

38 Responses

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  1. Love the post and pictures, Cynthia!
    * I guess I never figured that pancreatic cancer would be the main factor that informs my writing, but since it’s one of the three things I share with Patrick Swayze (along with insanely good looks and an insanely gorgeous wife) I figure I may as well run with it…because it will most assuredly run after me, regardless.
    * At this point I’m probably one of the longest-in-tooth survivors, and I can honestly say that I would not have missed it for the world. No, I did NOT forget that I already took my morphine sulfate an doubled the dose…I don’t HAVE any opioids, now.
    * Seriously, with everything that goes along with the illness…unremitting pain, nausea, D&V (and sometimes you don’t quite make the loo), and fatigue (hardly does it justice), there is a clarity of vision and purpose that I would have missed otherwise.
    * My life is not about me; it’s not about what I accomplish; rather, it’s about how what I DO affects others. We are community for a reason, and that reason is not to build up egos and mutually support success. Those are nice, but we’re here to link our hands as a bridge of hope over the abyss of despair, and the bridge we create bears the footsteps of the Lord.
    * But is this ‘research’, or is it just a convenient excuse to get preachy? I’m certainly not above preaching what I call the ‘Gratitude Gospel’ – ask Barb, and prepare for an earful – but I hope that the experience lays the foundation for a literary structure that stands tall enough to see across the Xenophobic Hills that divide us, so that we can know we’re really part of the same family, whatever our colour or creed.
    * Or maybe, since I’m doing my time in Hell, it’s my license to write about nothing but unicorns.

    • Research is the study of what happened, what worked, what didn’t work and why. You do all that well, Andrew, so it’s not just an excuse. And definitely not preachy. You go where we all hope not to, and you tell us what you are learning. Thank you.

    • The one distinction, Andrew, is that you’re somewhat in the role of an on-the-spot reporter. When I write about life-experience, I am looking very much in retrospect – “here’s what I experienced 20 years ago.” You are writing more about what you experienced today, last hour, or as we speak. And Shirlee is correct. You’re reporting on places we hope not to go. Nothing but respect, brother. I deeply admire you.

    • When people share their heart from a real location, their testimony never seems preachy to me. It’s real. I want real. I’ll follow real.

    • Andrew, I agree with Shirlee. I hope never to go where you are. But I have learned so much from you. You’re authentic and encouraging. And your words ring with hope.
      *Thank you for shining the light on how to “do hard” things.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Six bullet points. Six book ideas! Thanks for including point four, too.

    • Angie Arndt says:

      Cynthia’s posts always make me think. I’m blushing in shame at the number of notes, photos and ideas you brought home.

      And Andrew, your replies do the same. Yes, our lives are not lived for ourselves, but to enrich others and glorify God. Your life does just that (even if you do write about “nothing but unicorns”).

      • Cynthia Ruchti says:

        Angie, I’m writing sushi into a story because you held my hand through the proper etiquette for sushi!

      • Angie Arndt says:

        Cynthia,
        Are you really? How cool is that! 🙂 Thanks for letting me know and inspiring me to do better with my “inspiration collection.” 🙂

  2. I never would have thought that writing the articles I do would influence my novel writing. I usually interview people in other countries. But then I got a story here and a story there in the U.S. … one story so sweet, I just felt it needed more than a thousand words written about it. The location was close to me, so I traveled there to take pictures of the people, and I entered into their church, walked their downtown streets with them, drove out to their lake. 🙂 When I received this particular assignment, I had just dipped my toes into the water of writing fiction with a middle grade, and I was trying to find my bearings. So with this assignment–this story that touched my heart–it seemed like a door had opened, offering direction.

  3. Infertility has definitely shaped who I am as a person and how I perceive suffering and faith. I’m still figuring out how to harness some of the emotion, the experiences from that season in our lives.
    *And then there are the interruptions like hubs learning, with very short notice, that he must go out of country for work. Schedules are disrupted. But, through those seasons, I’m learning how to lean on God, and to be intentional with the writing time that is available. I’m thinking this can translate into my stories too. So few of life’s experiences go the way we expect. 🙂

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Love the concept of “harnessing the emotion,” Jeanne. And what a wonderful gift from the pain–an adjustment to the way you perceive suffering and faith. Beautiful.

  4. Carol Ashby says:

    So true that life is research, Cynthia. Three years ago, as my husband, son, and I drove home from a Christmas visit with my husband’s family in Texas, what was drizzle shifted toward sleet. We hit the highway bridge outside Bronte, TX, at only 40 mph, but it had frozen ahead of the road. As the F250 4×4 crewcab fishtailed, I started praying. When the end swung around to lead us tail-first into the ditch, I continued. When we started to roll, we turned over more than 180 degrees and crunched the driver-side corner of the cab on the first bounce. Then Someone flipped us back onto our tires with a heavily cracked windshield and a canopy twisted off the bed at a 20% angle but still attached. Airbags don’t deploy going backwards, so the truck was still drivable enough for us to drive 35 miles along the shoulder to San Angelo to wait out the storm.
    My first question: “Is everyone OK?” They were.
    My second question: “Where’s my laptop?” I’d been working on my first novel on a 10” Gateway, but I’d just put it away in its soft padded case. It had bounced off my husband’s head (he accuses me of throwing it at him) and landed in the rear seat during the roll. Unbroken (both laptop and head)!
    Then I saw the 1” bump rising on my elbow. My first thought: “I can watch how fast bruises form and disappear.” I had just had the assassins hired by my Roman hero’s brother throw him off a cliff, and I needed to know how fast he would recover with the Messianic Jewish family who found him and took him home to heal. I would have rather looked that up on the web, but the real-life research did yield much greater detail. I took notes for the next two weeks. If anyone wants them, let me know.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Carol, I think you just provided a plot point for me! Airbags don’t deploy going backwards!

      One time, I needed to know–really know–what the progression would be like if a splinter were allowed to fester. This may have been before Google. I picked up a splinter from a picnic table…and left it in my finger long enough to do the research. (The radio broadcast that came from the experience was about dissension in a family or in the church.)

      • Carol Ashby says:

        A woman after my own heart! I do draw a line over which I won’t voluntarily step. I didn’t personally test how long it takes to recover from a sword wound or a fractured leg.

      • Carol Ashby says:

        There’s a switch (an accelerometer) in an airbag that detects rapid reduction of speed in the forward direction. Going backwards doesn’t trigger the switch. Pickups usually don’t have side airbags. We didn’t suffer much side damage so they might not have deployed even if we had them. Depending on the accident, your sidebags might deploy, so maybe make it an older car that doesn’t have any, if that matters. I’m not sure what kind of switch is used to activate side bags.

  5. David Todd says:

    When I was 13 (sister 14, brother 11), and our mother died, I certainly didn’t realize I would some day write a series of short stories about teenage grief, and about being unsupervised while Dad continued to work the night-shift, and how I self-counseled through the next couple of years. Nor did I ever figure I’d publish them in a boxed-set one day.

  6. So true, I think that my sons’ antics with their pet chickens and our Newfoundland dog’s many silly habits have certainly interrupted me, but given me so many delighful details for stories and blogs. I’m so glad we don’t just write, but live as well!

  7. Cynthia thanks for this post, and I love the pictures too! I have to say I have developed such a fondness for this blog and all of you, your comradery, support for Andrew and each other, the good-natured bantering and encouragement, all with helpful information. Thank-you. For me, I would never have guessed many things in my life would have led me to the main thrust of my writing passion which is to “lead and feed.” Lead people to the Father through Jesus Christ and to feed them the truth of God’s Word so they can experience the loving and stable relationship He intended for them. You see, without going into the particulars, I have lived a life of much suffering, myself, my only child, my husband. But God, has been so gracious to me and taught me how to not only survive, but thrive and now I am able to help others. I am so very grateful that God can use everything in our lives. Everything I pour out onto the page, or canvas, or in speaking comes from what I have lived. But mind you less this seems grim, it is full of hope. Plus, I have a sense of humor, and write laughable letters to friend’s kids away at summer camp!

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Oh, my! Are the laughable letters being compiled into a book, Elizabeth?

      • Yes, they are. The recipients have even asked for more, and to create YouTube’s for Great Aunt Lizzie – emphasis on the Great! It is a character I created this past summer to get her daughter to be thrown in the lake. Each letter they got they were dunked. She was only at camp a week, but they enjoyed the letter so much they wanted more. I am actually in the process of creating her physical dress. But it is me. Cynthia, I had one son, and wanted more children but couldn’t due to severe endometriosis. But I am Auntie Betsy to several children of various longtime friends, Momma B to my church family and those who are my children of the faith, and to those who haven’t found Jesus yet, and now I am Great Aunt Lizzie – emphasis on the Great. That is actually how the character signs her letters. Everyone who knows me well knows I am always making people laugh. I love it. I’ve been like that since I was a child. I am actually getting requests from quite a few people to do YouTube and podcasts not just for this but to learn about Jesus. They tell me we want to see your face and how you explain with your hands. My biggest problem is I have such a creative mind that it is constantly spilling out and I have to corral it and focus on tasks at hand. So now you know this bit of me. There ain’t no telling what other stories are in the mind and heart of this well-worn, risk taking, story telling woman!

        With all the love my heart can hold,
        Your Great Aunt Lizzie, emphasis on the Great

    • Carol Ashby says:

      Elizabeth, I’m really glad you’ve joined this blog family.

      • Thank you Carol! Truth be told, you kind comment about being welcomed to the group typos and all encouraged me. I was so mortified by typos, and the thing is with my writing on my laptop I am so perfectionistic. I go over and over it. Read it out loud. Send it to my gifted writing partner, Tamara Jorrell, who has a degree in English and has six years a grant writing under her belt. She and I are always looking for errors. But my eyes do have a time, and my brain goes faster than the box we enter our comments. Then dog gone it, but my finger will be just off a hair on the digital key pad on my phone and there you have it, or don’t as auto text can take over before my comments roll up into the vast unknown until I push the submit button, praying.

        Thanks so much for your kindness, and to all of you. I find so much grace and kindness here. Everyday I look forward to seeing what I will learn and who posts what.

      • Carol Ashby says:

        I’m an absolute perfectionist when it comes to my novels and website articles, too. But for other things, I try to remember the wise words of a research manager when it came to corporate paperwork: Sometimes completion is the goal, not perfection.
        If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need a Savior. Glad you’re joining the rest of us “slightly imperfects” here regularly!

  8. Lori Benton says:

    It’s exciting never knowing when something in the day to day routine is going to spark a scene, a character, a line of dialogue, or an entire story. It happened to me recently, during our last Sunday meeting in our outdoor amphitheater (we move inside this weekend). My husband and I were sitting up on the top tier and behind us on the rim was standing an older man we both know, but not real well. He’s a small, trim man with lovely thick white hair and beard, a war vet, a man who lives alone, who possesses a depth and kindness and a fascinating history I think most people looking at him would never suspect. He also possesses a gorgeous singing voice, sounding like a much younger man. I was listening to him worshiping the Lord on Sunday and a character in a future book was born. Just like that. I never see this stuff coming and that of course is half of what makes it exciting just to walk out the door most days. Your post reminds me that I had better get it all down and quick, before it starts slipping away. Pesky life keeps getting in the way. 🙂

  9. Jerusha Agen says:

    Wow, I so needed to hear this today, Cynthia! I read your opening and was astounded by how you read my mind. 🙂 Thanks for this encouraging look at my “interrupted” day!