How much of yourself do you put into your writing? As the saying goes, we writers always put a little bit of themselves into everything we write. It may not necessarily be personal bits. It could simply be settings related to places we’ve been, or experiences we’ve had like being in a car accident, or maybe even our interpretation of emotion. We all know what it feels like to be in love, to want something, to experience pain. So yeah, it’s easy enough to say that we put pieces of ourselves into our work.
But some of us put more than these peripheral experiences and feelings into our stories. In fact, there are some of us that put huge hunks of our person in there, all the blood and entrails. Those stories, although made up, still have a basis in reality. Fictional characters based on real people, events on the page playing out like they did in real life, words spoken the same, but we change the names to protect the innocent. Or something like that.
I know I put pieces of myself in my writing. Doesn’t matter if it’s a poem, short story, song lyrics…some tiny piece of my personality or experience slips in. There are times I purposely try to stay out of it, but when I’m finished I often find a line, paragraph, or even a page that relates to something personal.
I’m also guilty of maybe putting too much of myself in my stories. There’s one in particular – complete but unpublished at the moment – that I surprised me. I had the opening scene in my head, worked on the draft for a few months, found the ending I was missing, then polished it up. I felt that finishing the final rewrite was very cathartic. I’m generally pleased and worn out when I finish a story, but this one, well, it felt different. I felt like a weight had been lifted, like I had some sort of psychic release. I wasn’t sure why, but it felt really good.
I then handed it over to my partner for her feedback. When she finished it all I got was a tearful hug. I wasn’t sure why. She told me later that she was proud of me for writing the story, that she could see it was probably difficult for me to write, but that it was good I got it out of my system.
Confused, I went back and reread it, trying to keep an open mind (you know, after working on a story for a while you get too close to it and can’t see it from an unbiased POV). I then realized that the story I had written was basically me fictionalizing a family relationship. Years of anger and frustration spilled all over the pages. I was surprised that I didn’t realize it at first. I thought I was writing about a dysfunctional family relationship. It turned out to be a therapy session.
Of course, the events in the story didn’t actually happen. Especially the ending. But the relationships in the story, the way the characters treated one another, the conflicts and the poorly chosen words, that was all pulled from real life. It was…sobering. I had been carrying this around in my head for many years, and I guess it needed to find a way out so it developed into a work of fiction.
I’m curious how many other writers have had similar experiences. Have you written anything that ended up being almost too personal? If so, how did you react?
For now, I’m not sure if I’ll publish the story. I think it’s a good story and I’ve received positive feedback from a couple of people who read it, but knowing how close to reality it is, I’m just not sure if I’m ready to put it out there. No one would know…no one but me, my partner, and a friend. But still, it’s very personal and I don’t know if I can let that out into the world. Time will tell.