Experience and the Single Most Important Thought

This post is late! And short! And for that, I apologize. But I have a good reason: 

In case you don’t follow me on social media and you’ve been wondering where I am, I’m currently in the middle of a move–a big one: from Portland, OR to Charlotte, NC. Eventually, I’ll do a proper post about it all, but for now, check out my Instagram page to learn more about the journey (#KidLitRoadTrip).


This trip has got me thinking. Specifically, it has me thinking about experience.

There’s an ancient writer’s adage: “Write about what you know.” I used to find this terrifying, especially when I was a teenager, because I recognized that I knew so little. I’d EXPERIENCED so little…or so, I believed.

But experience is not a treasure trove reserved only for people lucky enough to go on an adventure.

You may think, Easy for you to say, Shelby; you’re driving across the country for the second time in the past five years. You HAVE experience. 

Maybe. But I think this journey also has helped me recognize that the grand and mighty and Instagram-able moments aren’t ultimately what gets used when push comes to shove/story-making.

If I could go back to teenage Shelby, I would tell her that it’s not the experience itself that it is important. It’s the attention given to each experience, the manner in which it is felt, dissected, recorded, and integrated into the writer’s mental arsenal. It’s not the beautiful vista–it’s the awe that you feel looking at it, the urge to share it with everyone, the thrill and the exhaustion of spending days/weeks on the road, the pinch in your neck, the cramp in your thigh, the way you long to stay in the same bed two nights and to keep moving and driving and exploring–both desires battling for dominance until you’re fatigued in the driver’s seat and restless in the hotel room.

The specific scenarios are only important, because they had served to shape YOU. It doesn’t matter exactly what they are. It doesn’t matter how widely or narrowly they range. (Think of Emily Dickinson, who rarely left her house. Think of Ernest Hemingway, who traveled and traveled and rarely called any place home.)

The only thought that matters–the thought that inspires the right quality of attention needed to stow an experience away in the mental archive you’ll use when you’re crafting a story–is this:

Someday, I’ll write about this. 

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