I love collecting weird hobbies and experiences, and often joke that I’m a “method writer.”
It’s only partially a joke: I’ve been known to seek out adventures in the same flavor of what I’m writing. (See: this deep cut from my archives where I shot guns and learned about them six years ago for a novel I was writing. Baby Amy was — and still is — a die hard method writer.)
When I was writing a story about my hometown, I made the trek back to Middle of Nowhere, Arizona, and made a point of meeting up with as many old acquaintances as possible. I visited gun ranges to learn about what my characters would know about owning and firing a gun, I hung out with tumbleweeds in the desert and watched the sunset. (The sun setting in the desert is probably the only beauty I’ll admit exists in the wasteland that can be endless stretches of brush and plants that want to fight you. Jumping cacti, anyone?)
The stories I’m working on now are being continually reshaped by the experience I’m seeking out — and vice-versa. I make an effort to be a method writer, and it pays off.
I truly believe the more wildly we wander, the better our words become.
So here’s how I approach “method” writing.
How to Have Experiences Worth Writing About as the Foundation for Method Writing
I have a wacky combination of freelance jobs right now since I’m in-between writers’ rooms. (Which I’ve written about before in my ‘Day in the Life’).
This means I have excuses to interview artists for magazine articles, write memoirs about people who are living extraordinary lives, and spend the afternoon at the Hammer for “work.”
At the end of the day, I can synthesize all of this into the ridiculous combination of interactions into my work. That’s why an interesting day job pays off in spades. (And hopefully, money. That too.)
It’s worth taking a job for its value to your education on humanity and exposure to fascinating people and topics. This flies in the face of what I’ve been told before about taking a job just for the money, but it’s definitely possible to find something that checks both of those boxes.
So, once you’ve mastered the art of creating a life worth writing about and practiced the art of living an examined life, you’re ready to dive into method writing.
Exercises for Method Writers
- Live like your main character for a day. This is a weird one, but it’s worth it and you can take this as far as you feel comfortable with. When I was writing about a character who was going blind, I didn’t wear my glasses for a day. Would not recommend: I have something like -6 vision so it was a struggle. However, it did make me aware of all of the things I take for granted as someone who can see, and how terrifying it can be when you can’t make out the world around you. Those details made it into the final draft of my script, which won me an award at USC and placed in the second round at AFF.
- Write in the places your characters inhabit. From Walden to The Sun Also Rises, authors have always garnered creativity from the places they inhabit. You don’t have to be an expat or forest dweller to do this: even if you just spend a weekend in an odd AirBnb in the middle of nowhere or spend an afternoon writing off the beaten path, you can get the creative benefit of changing your mindset and your location.
- Write first-person character diaries. I love this exercise because it forces you to step outside writing from your own perspective and truly understand how the brain of your characters work. When we’re writing diaries or journals, we switch off the performative side of our brain and just write. So who is your character when they’re not performing from the world? How do they relate with the world around them, what do they think of the other characters?
- Learn a new skill that your character knows. I’m a serial hobbyist: I’ve taken classes in archery, computer hacking, lockpicking, and was a competitive ballroom dancer. All of these skills have made it into my scripts in some way over the years. Once you learn a skill, you have valuable insight and context that can elevate a character — and connect on a deeper level with readers/viewers who also love that same hobby.
- Interview people with the same profession as your character… and then try out that profession, if you can. I love this one. As you can see from my intrepid reporting above, I’m hoping to use my experiences from some of these odd freelance jobs as context for my characters. I’ve also interviewed professionals in other fields for scripts, and they’ve provided valuable research and insight into their lives when it came to character and plot construction. As a writer, every day is career day for us: we’re constantly trying on new professions, trying to see what everyone else’s jobs look like from the inside.
- Write and perform a monologue as your main character. Even if you just deliver the monologue to your bedroom mirror, it’s a great way to capture their style of dialog and inner thoughts. Bonus points if you write the monologue about a turning point in their life or in the story you’re telling about them — you never know what you may end up using.
At the end of the day, I interpret ‘method writing’ as just immersive research.
In order for us to accurately portray truth in our work and in our characters, we first have to discover that truth for ourselves.