A well-known quote from Ernest Hemingway is “In order to write about life first you must live it.”
A lot of writers start out writing a novel with a main character whose life closely resembles their own. How close they choose to make that resemblance can often determine the success or failure of the story.
Pain drives art. Marilyn Manson said so and I agree with this sentiment:
“I think it’s the pain and suffering that drive you to become an artist. The art itself should be the pain, sort of exorcising every demon and making you feel like you’re a person that matters.”
The drive to write a novel that arises from the need to expel a nagging personal demon should not be discouraged. It’s a cathartic journey for sure and no matter the outcome, it’s a journey many writers have to take in order to get that demon out of their head once and for all.
When a personal wound is the spark for a story it can have pros and cons. The pros all line up under the creativity heading. Whatever pushes a writer to write is an important impetus that should be nurtured.
So, what are the cons?
What if the fictional writing stalls at the same spot the true life experience stalled? Why? The writer hasn’t figured out how to navigate his or her own perspective on events and therefore can’t project a decision on a character.
Or when drawing from a personal experience, a writer might not be willing to look at alternatives to the outcome he or she was forced to accept. What if the true outcome doesn’t make for a good plot?
And what if the wounds a writer suffered caused that writer to be bitter or angry or unyielding? What if, instead of empathetic, the writer creates a character that is unsympathetic and off-putting because the writer may not have learned from those wounds?
It’s possible to kill a good story by preaching. We all know that. And it’s been said before that wisdom comes from the scar not the wound. So maybe it’s the pain that spurs the writer on to write in the first place and it’s the act of writing that helps the story develop into the realm of reparative possibilities.
So, in the end, the real pro side is wounds can actually heal through writing and readers can also benefit in the process. Stories offer a tonic for all our mutual ills as long as they aren’t told from a narrow perspective that stunts empathy.
In real life no one is telling us what to notice, what to pay attention to that will teach us the lessons that we need to learn. It’s only in fiction we get to tell the story we want to tell instead of the story as it was told to us by fate. The craft lies in making a real story bigger than life, bigger than the life as the writer lived it and one any reader would want to jump inside and relive.
Hemingway also wrote “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Metaphor, yes. Nailed it? Yes again.
Christina for Penpaperwrite
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