If You Think It's About You...Maybe It Is!

Ten days into National Novel Writing Month, I'm thinking about how so much of writing is a mental and emotional struggle for me.


Well, I am one of those people that believe in writing what I know. It doesn't have to be what I've personally experienced, just what I know.

I've noticed folks confuse 'knowing" with "personal experience". And I get that confusion. I blame it on Terry McMillan and her "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" novel.

Terry wrote a "fictionalized" account of her against all odds romance and marriage to a young guy from a Caribbean island. Of course, she was psyched with life and having great sex-- until, post-book happy ending, homeboy turned out to be secretly gay, cheated on her and stole money from her.


As for me, I haven't experienced that personally but I know a little about what that would be like because I've read Terry's book and also know someone who's husband decided he was gay.

I could write about that.

I also know a whole lot about struggles with identity, religion, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, racism, sexism, materialism, hating your job, loving your job, office politics, abortion, mental illness, ambition, insane families and families that seem sane but aren't, people who lie, people who think they're amazing and really are... and people who think they're amazing but they actually totally suck.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Like I said, it doesn't all have to be things I've personally experienced, but if back in college you and I sat up all night talking and you told me your deep, dark secret about how you cheated on your girlfriend, got another girl pregnant, and then physically threatened that girl till she got an abortion, guess what, I know a little about that now, and I can write about it.

When I'm writing, I can draw upon that years ago conversation and twist it to fit what I'm writing.

And that's where the worry comes in.

I worry too much about hurting people's feelings. I worry that people are going to think what I'm writing is about them...or they'll think it's about me.

And maybe it is.

Maybe you shouldn't have told me your story. Or, maybe you shouldn't have been such an asshole to me that you left an indelible mark on my brain, because maybe I'm fictionalizing you and telling it like it really is. (Mmm hmm. How ya like me now?)

Sure, I worry folks will get angry and decide not to speak to me anymore, or that they'll say, "Hey, you took my experience and put it in your book! I'm going to beat your ass!"

Next thing you know, I'll be sporting two black eyes and a broken nose.

But the black eyes are surely months down the road.

In the meantime, I'll just keep plugging away on my little novel. I have a ways to go till I have to worry about all this for real. And if my book gets a publisher and these become my worries, I'll probably just be so happy that I might not even care who hates me for writing what I do.

I wonder if that's a good thing?


Anonymous said…
It IS a good thing if you share their stories with empathy and respect.

I'm looking forward to reading your novel. (I also have ice for the black eye - smile)
Mes Deux Cents said…
Hi Liz,

I don't think that there is any other way to be authentic than to write about as you say, what you know.

Those times when people told you about their experiences, became your experiences as well when they shared them with you.

I think there would be very few books written if a requirement was that the writer had to actually experieced first hand everything they wrote about.

And there may be people who get upset that you have included someting about them.I guess all you can do is warn them before the book is published so they aren't blindsided. But what ever you do, you should not edit yourself for fear of what someone is going to think.

I can't wait to read your book!

I hear what you are saying. I have read time and time again that many first novels tend to be semi-autobiographical. There must be a reason for this.

Don't censor yourself when you are writing. Just do your thing. Looking forward to reading your novel.
Jameil said…
i think every writer goes through this. its part of what being a writer is all about. i'm sure whatever happens, your delivery will be superb.
Liz Dwyer said…
True, even a villain has to be a bit empathetic. And thanks for the ice hook up for the future black eye! LOL!

So true! Thank goodness I don't have to experience everything I write about. Whew! I know I worry too much about being on blacklisted from folks lives, but I suppose that just comes with the territory.

Thanks for the encouragement. The self-censorship has really been one of my biggest issues. Some of my writing has had a stiffness to it because of this issue. And I think part of my problem has been that I haven't wanted it to be semi-autobiographical because I didn't want folks asking me, "Is this about you?" But, it is what it is.

Probably if I wasn't going through this that could be a sign that there's something really wrong! I sure hope what I write turns out fab so thanks for the good thoughts! :)
Anonymous said…
You will realise and release your full potential when you stop worrying about how other people judge you and what they think about you.
Only the Creator can do that!
Say what you're gonna say and say it how you're gonna say it. Then you will heal, educate, inform and entertain others.
You are a fantastic writer,
Nuff respect and feelings,
Anonymous said…
You were born to write.

I think all fiction is metaphorical memoir. And all memoir is metaphorical fiction.

In my opinion, you have the most important trait of a writer: you tell the truth.

Write on. And don't look back:)

I can't wait to read your first novel. And I'll be cheering you on at the Portland reading. Watch out Powell's--here comes Liz!
epikles said…
that whole "write about what you know thing" is kind of misleading. if you sit down and start writing, it's going to be you that is writing, and the things that are going to come out are going to come out from you. it's not going to be coming from anybody else. seriously, we don't even know what we know. so this is nothing to worry about. write what you write.
Liz Dwyer said…
Knowing that you've actually read some of my work, I can appreciate your honest thoughts. It is of course true that only God can ultimately judge us, but we are in some ways accountable to each other. Can you honestly say you wouldn't be upset if I put some fictionalized aspect of your life in my book? (Actually, I hope this anonymous is who I think it is. If not, sorry! LOL!)

That's so very very nice of you to say. I can't wait to come read in Portland too. I've heard it's a beautiful place. Someone once told me I should move there.
I'm trying not to look back but it's hard. I guess I just have to take it one sentence at a time.

You know what I've noticed? I think the process of writing on the novel and also doing nablopomo has changed my writing. Even in this space, it's made it looser, more authentic. And I definitely like that. I think what I worry about is not wanting to do things that cause disunity or hurt others.

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