Are You in There?

I read an interesting post this morning by Cristian Mihai, who writes a blog full of good writing-related advice and the occasional quandary. Today he wrote about writers working to separate their work from their true selves, and why that might not always be the best plan.

This is something that resonates with me. I have always wanted to “be a writer”… that was the one thing I’ve ever been sure of. But I hesitated to ever write any of the things that mattered most to me for fear that I would be implicated in my own words, or worse — that I would drag in someone else from my life who didn’t necessarily want to be written about. I’ve come to realize that it is a risk that any writer must accept — that we may expose ourselves, or someone we love, through our work. I cannot write about a life and people that I don’t know. I can only imagine so much. I can only research so much. And I don’t think I’m alone. I would guess that even the most well-researched historical fiction must carry some part of the writer in it. A character, a trait, an experience, maybe. And if not, does the work feel “real”?

I’ve given up trying to keep myself separate. Instead, I’ve begun to embrace characters who have some of my quirks and those who seem to share common histories with me. I think I’ll do a better job writing about these kindred spirits than I would writing about someone who I purposely forced away from me.

That’s not to say that we, as writers, shouldn’t try to write a variety of people — a whole book full of Delanceys wouldn’t be terribly interesting.

What about you? Do you purposefully try to divorce yourself from your characters? Or do you find elements of your own life, loved ones and situations seeping into your stories?

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2 thoughts on “Are You in There?

  1. I try in everything I write to relate, experience, and understand. I do this by reviewing my own life and so yes my story bleeds into me and I into it. Great example, I know that my persona is no one thing, so I divorce and separate each piece and then am allowed to add it ad nauseam into any number of characters, as well as filtering others and doing the same for them. No one person, not even myself, makes it in complete.

  2. When I first started to write, I thought that I shouldn’t draw on people I know too much when I was creating characters. Then I decided it’s just like places and personally experiences, really, and I draw on those when I write. I avoid making someone I know into a character flat-out but I’ll use some of their traits when developing minor characters. I think that makes things more real, like you said.

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