They say new writers put themselves into their writing. I’ve found that seasoned writers do as well. We only have to look as far as Stephen King’s Dark Tower series to see this great writer add himself to his stories. His character in that series is not only a writer but also named Stephen King.
However, most of the time when writers add themselves to their stories it’s much more subtle. It’s common to add character traits, locations, or even their favorite meal to a story. Even deeper still writers will pour their passions, desires, dreams, and ethics into their fiction.
As a child, I wrote a lot of poetry. These were almost always snippets straight from my heart. Poetry is cathartic that way. When you write poetry it’s an accepted practice to bleed onto the page, pour all your emotions into your words, and bare your soul to the reader.
Growing up, writing poetry was my way of making sense of the world around me. When my parents divorced, when we moved out of state, when a pet died, or when I had my first crush, I wrote about it in a poem. Or ten.
When I started writing long fiction I believed that I shouldn’t include myself at all into these stories. In middle school, this is what my English teachers taught me. They argued that these were fictional characters with completely separate identities. I was told if I had more of an imagination I could come up with characters that were not like me.
I stopped writing for several years.
When my health failed after my second child I started writing again. I needed the familiarity of creating fictional worlds and soon my creative muscles kicked back into gear. I started seeing stories in every conversation and every person I watched in line at the grocery store. No, I wasn’t a stalker, I was back to being a writer. I saw stories in every life situation.
After about five or six editing sessions on my first novel, a developmental editor informed me I needed to add more of myself into the story or it would never resonate with readers.
At first, I argued with her, reiterating all the reasons my teachers gave me not to add myself into my writing. This did not go over well. As is my norm in life, I tend to attract strong female friends and critics. This editor was not shy in letting me know just how much more relatable my story would be if I interjected myself into it.
That advice and the colorful conversation we had that bright sunny day was well worth the money.
I buckled down and added a few of my own characteristics into my work. As I labored over my story and added more and more of myself into it, I realized I had added other familiar people as well. I found characters leaping off the page that were so similar to family members, that I almost didn’t tell them about the book when I published.
In adding so much of myself and those around me into my story, I also worked through several issues I was going through with the real people in my life.
I realized I found free psychotherapy.
Of course, my counselor would not agree with that one hundred percent. But it was freeing and enlightening as I created antagonists after people I had issues with. I would then basically rewrite history as I changed how events, now fictionalized in a story, turned out. I could make these characters see the error of their ways. It was weirdly satisfying.
Two years ago I met my book coach and mentor, Azul Terronez. For some reason, while I was talking to him, an idea for a non-fiction book came to me. I explained it to him, and we worked on fleshing out the idea.
It was similar to years earlier where I was sure that now with non-fiction I shouldn’t put myself into my work. I went through outlines and mind mapping and still the book didn’t feel quite right.
That’s when Azul talked to me about putting myself into my non-fiction. I’m not sure why I was surprised. I read non-fiction all the time. The books that are the most interesting and memorable are the ones where the authors add personal stories into them. I knew as a reader this was true, now I needed to practice it as a writer.
This time though, adding real stories to my book was quite harder than fictionalizing myself. Instead of working through the issues and events in my life through a character, I had to face them straight on. Some of the events that I needed to add to my book in order to explain who I was as a writer were difficult to revisit. But I pushed through, with the help of my coach and a wonderful mastermind group. I believe my writing is stronger now because of this.
Now I can’t help but be part of my writing, whether it’s poetry, fiction, or non-fiction. I not only identify myself as a writer, but it’s part of my everyday life. I may have other interests and day job responsibilities, but my writing is what sustains me through it all.