My brother studied film in college. One of his teachers told him that all creative persons must have unusual histories on which they can draw. ( Assuming we all agree with the teacher,and I'm not assuming that at all, I'd have to ask what constitutes a sufficiently unique experience to work as a writer or movie maker or anything, but that's a discussion for another day.) He then handed out notebooks to the class and asked them to fill them as much as possible with the things that they thought made them unique.
To me, that sounds like a fantastic project, but my brother told me that most of his class had trouble with it. He said a lot of kids came in with half the notebook full or less. My brother filled his notebook. (Yes, I'm proud of that.) He said it was no sweat.
His grade: C-.
Why? The teacher didn't believe him. His exact words: "I don't believe your cousin ever taught a student named Dragon Boat."
Now, as someone who would never mind pointed out if her brother had lied, fabricated that story, or even stretched the truth, I can honestly raise my right hand and say, "True story." In fact, without trouble, I can pull up at least five minutes of true stories that most people would never believe actually happened. Hell, I could do five minutes on things somehow related to Canada that people would probably never believe. (Did you know I once convinced someone that on Canada Day, the whole of Canada comes together as one to herd beavers into the Plain Provinces, where we club them to death? I then explained that we skin them to use the pelts, store most of the meat for winter, and make Beaver Burgers, which are quite tasty and delicious. This person was horrified for five minutes before I explained that it wasn't true. Gullible is also written on the ceiling.)
You might imagine that I am unique in this uniqueness, but I maintain that this is not so. Every heard of the website My Life Is Average? While I personally hold that the site should be renamed My Life Is Surprisingly Weird, because none of these things are average, it is certainly an entertaining site. And it's proof that these things happen to people who aren't me.
My point, I guess, is this: Does a writer need to come from some sort of highly unique/different/unusual/unorthodox background in order to create? How important are you life experiences (particularly the odd ones) in your writing?
I personally doubt that J.K. Rowling channeled her years at a magical boarding school into Harry Potter or that Twilight is based on Meyer's relationship with a 117-year-old. However, who am I to determine how much of their life experiences entered the book. Zach Braff drew heavily on his own life when writing Garden State. It seems to vary.
How important are your life experiences is your creative process?