Experiential Writing

Writers are often encouraged to “experience” life in an effort to make their work more compelling. Well, experience doesn’t always mean living through a tragedy or performing some heart-stopping thrill. Some experiences are more … sedate.

Overland Park City Hall

Overland Park, Kansas, City Hall

When I was in high school — back before the Internet Age — my English teacher tasked the class to encounter a new experience and write about it. He provided a long list of suggestions and said he would be willing to entertain other ideas.

Now, my life up to that point had been pretty sheltered. I hadn’t traveled much. I had yet to land my first job. And my idea of a big weekend was going to the mall on Friday night and hanging out at the arcade. In short, my life was pretty devoid of new experiences.

I had planned to spice it up by asking my parents to let me attend a wrestling match in Kansas City. I figured the visceral experience in the ring would be equally matched by the rabid fans in the cheap seats. I wanted to be a part of something truly outside my comfort zone.

The wrestling match, however, had some drawbacks. It would have meant saving up the money for a ticket, not to mention getting my parents to drive me downtown for a public event that may or may not have sent me running back to suburbia. And there was the time factor. I needed to get the assignment done quickly. In the end, I opted for one of the experiences on the pre-approved list.

I went to a city council meeting. City Hall was not far from my house (I passed by it every day on the way to school). The council chamber was a small room with low ceilings and florescent lights. It looked more like a converted office space than a hall of government. The evening’s agenda was of no interest to me, as the council discussed the minutia of municipal concerns. Some locals had shown up to voice their opinions, but there were no protests or crazy rants worth writing about.

Instead of writing about my experience, I wrote a play-by-play of the night’s event. The paper, while suitable for a journalism class, had missed the mark for the English class assignment. Bored by the new experience, I wrote a boring paper. And I failed to understand the point of it all.

Though it hadn’t been filled with bloodlust of a sporting event or a death-defying leap from a plane, that city council meeting made an impression on me. The experience, dull as it was, had been a new one. It had pushed me outside my comfort zone a little.

And that was the point. For the first time, I had experienced life on my own. No parent had been there to guide my way. No friends had accompanied me for mutual support.

I did it on my own, and I survived to tell the tale.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

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