No, this has nothing to do with MTV.
Yesterday my writing class took a field trip. Our instructor told us nothing before our arrival in class as to what we were doing or where we were going or how it related to writing. So we arrived, expectant, and waited for her announcement.
The assignment (and there was no choice regarding acceptance): (i) go to the Student Union and interview someone you've never met about a time when they got kicked out of somewhere, (ii) write up the details of said story, and (iii) fictionalize it into a story of 300-400 words. And we only got one shot once the person agreed. She forbade us from interviewing multiple people.
At the words "you've never met", my adrenaline kicked into overdrive. I'm not an interviewer. If I were, I'd be in journalism classes, not fiction. I'm a lock-myself-up-and-write type, and... other people? What's that? As we left the classroom, another woman from class and I started discussing, first, how this was crazy and we were already embarrassed :) and then strategies on how to find people who weren't trying to study and would therefore be more willing to talk to us.
I guess it worked—once I swallowed my pride and my fear. The first person I asked not only was willing to talk to me (sitting in the food court with his half-eaten Pizza Hut bread stick), but he had a great story. Due to confidentiality restrictions required by the assignment, I can't share it, but I will tell you that I laughed the entire time he relayed his story, and that it involved a Walmart and a ripstik.
This exercise really emphasized the importance of using the real world (as opposed to the Real World) in writing. Once I got over my initial apprehension, I realized what a fabulous assignment this is. I'm still nervous about the writing part—even though the instructor assured us that we in no way had to stay true to the original story—but it's taken me beyond my comfort zone and asked me to do more. That I sincerely appreciate.
What leaps do you take for your writing? Have you ever been nervous about taking extra steps to make your work more authentic? How do you push yourself to include the real world (or the Real World if you love MTV)?