Giving an Old Hobby New Life

Have you ever heard the phrase “write what you know”? I’m sure you have. But, have you really thought about what that means? Today I’d like to talk about how I incorporated an eight-year hobby of mine into my current novel, NightWind.

“Behind the fallen soldier came more Kaldarians. From a distance, they all looked the same, like some sort of template in Miyabi’s shop. She thought of the thick clay spinning on the wheel, drenched with water as she worked. Rina, with the power to mold earth, sighed softly as she prepared to spill blood upon its unblemished surface.” – An excerpt from NightWind.

In the quote above, you see a reference to pottery. When I began working on NightWind, I was focused on the disparate nature of art and war and decided that creating a character who was a warrior and an artist would create an interesting dichotomy. Also, it would allow me to bring in my eight years of experience as a ceramics student.

I studied ceramics starting in fifth grade and continued the practice through the end of high school. Was I very good at it? Probably not. But, I still have my fancy set of tools gifted to me by my high school teacher, Mrs. Wert, at my high school graduation. I miss that hobby a lot and wish I had time for it now. I miss the feel of the clay and the days in “the cave” as we called it where all you could hear was the slap of clay against the table as students worked (and the radio if it happened to be on). I loved the smooth feel of the wet clay between my fingers as I molded a blob of gray into a pot. I loved the hum of the electric wheel or the scuff of my foot against the foot-powered wheel and the satisfaction of creating my own energy by which I would mold something completely new.

When creating the character of Rina and developing the Aviators, their uniform and their weapons, I imagined writing beautiful images of hands as Rina grasped weapons or shot a bow and arrow to draw comparisons to her hands molding clay into the shape of her choosing. I also imagined the inner struggle that she would face as someone who had trained her whole life to become a master artist and then had that dream taken away when she was “recruited” (though she lacked a choice in the matter) to the Aviators. There, too, is the struggle between creation and destruction as an artist turned warrior. (I do know that soldiers can also be artists and that these two practices do not exist in complete opposition to each other. But this is how I chose to approach the two vocations in my story.)

Ceramics is something that I know intimately, though it’s not something I have practiced in nearly 16 years. Nor had I thought about bringing into a writing project before now. But bringing something to my story that I know so much about has truly brought a new depth to my writing. I am crafting imagery far beyond anything I’ve developed before and, I think, drawing readers into the story in a new way because of it. It has also allowed me to connect with my character in a different way since it is an art that we both know intimately.

Taking ceramics and making it an element in my story was probably one of the best decisions I made when I began the creation process for this novel and it has me thinking about other hobbies I have/had or experiences that I have a solid grip on that could be worked into future projects, thereby living (once again) the write what you know mantra.

Do you have a hobby outside of writing that you could pull into a story? Maybe you played an instrument as a child or you were an athlete and have a fondness for a specific sport that could be used to create intriguing metaphors. What other parts of yourself have you worked into a project? Please feel free to share your experiences in the comments!