For any writer worth their salt, especially creative writers, having somewhat interesting life experiences definitely helps. Otherwise you are pulling ideas from other sources, other books, other people’s experience.

During the early 1980’s I deliberately forced myself into the social services field, knowing that there would be truckloads of experiences I could use later on in life. Without any background and little training I became a volunteer at Metro Crisis here in Portland, Oregon. After a year I volunteered at Outside-In as a walk-in crisis counselor for the mentally ill. After that I had the opportunity to become a VISTA (volunteer-in-service-to-America) at the Outside-In Street Youth program. I was also associated with Project LUCK (linking up community for kids) and project Greenhouse.

I met lots of different types of people from a wide variety of life. This was a good thing since I came from a somewhat sheltered life and a closed religious bubble (fundamentalist Christianity). This broke the shell that imprisoned my true nature as a person. I started on a path of personal growth and opportunity. By the time I finally left the social service field in 2000, I had gained enough experiences to last me several lifetimes and with a thousand story ideas in my head and notebooks.

Someone once asked me why I didn’t further my education and get a master’s degree in Social Work, since I seemed to be a natural in the field. Well, that wasn’t the reason I was working in the field in the first place. I was gaining experiences, meeting characters, etc. to further my writing dream. Don’t get me wrong, I loved what I was doing even if it was a burn-out kind of job, and it fed my altruistic needs to help my fellow man. there was a guy by the name of Joe Parker at the time that gave me this advice: If you plan on staying in the field, you’ll need a master’s or doctorate – simple as that. He was right. As time went on I was relegated to jobs I didn’t like or want and provided no challenge, simply because I didn’t have the advanced education.

So to get back to my original point here: If you want to be a good writer, do something in your work life that will provide interesting experiences for future stories, essays or poems. And try to do something that may go against your personal inclinations. Never in a million years did I ever conceive of working with street youth or the chronically mentally ill. But after doing so it greatly enriched my life as well as my writing.

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