Mining Experience by Jim Anderson

PapersIn what I can only describe as a courageous decision, I spent part of a recent weekend cleaning out the drawer of half finished projects. Perhaps it was the sun. And there were more than I remembered there being. So one of the things this cleaning out has inspired me to do is to see how many of them I can convert from half finished to finished by the end of the year.

But one of the stories I found is one that I haven’t yet persuaded myself to go back to, because of how uncomfortable I felt putting it down on paper in the first place and how uncomfortable it made me when I went back and reread it. Interestingly, I hadn’t remembered all of the details and if anything, I found myself more uncomfortable reading through it, than I remember myself being when writing it.

It’s a very strange experience, being that uncomfortable with something I pulled out of my own imagination. And I know that readers recognize the difference between what a writer can pull from their imagination and what that writer believes, and for this particularly story, I suspect I’ll get over this hurdle inside my head more quickly than I currently think is possible  And then I’ll realize I got all het up for nothing.

This contrasts with a different recent experience, where I had to stop half way through drafting a story because I’d tapped into something remarkably personal. To be fair, I wasn’t surprised, given what I was writing about and the experience I was mining. We’ll see how the revision goes for that one.

And now I’m curious, because I’ve heard it said that one should never confide in a writer, because that story or anecdote might well appear somewhere in that writer’s work. But I’ve never had that conversation with another writer, about the extent to which they mine their own experiences and the experiences of those people they know.

Clearly for some of what we write, faster than light drives and Gandalf and all, we’re probably more in the realm of imagination than experience, however much we might bring things we know into the stories. (Though we can always wonder otherwise.) But our characters react, and they find themselves in locales and situations, and so how much of this do we consciously mine from our own experience? Perhaps come Milford in September, we’ll sit around the fire and this will be the topic of conversation for the evening.


jim_andersonJim Anderson (on-line at is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.

About Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford maintains this blog. She is a writer of science fiction and fantasy (, the secretary of Milford SF Writers (, a singer ( and a music agent booking UK tours and concerts for folk performers ( She's also a Home Office / UK Visas and Immigration department licensed sponsor processing UK work permits (Certificates of Sponsorship).
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