I am not a pirate queen. I am not a duchess, a ballet instructor nor a botanist with two hot Search and Rescue boyfriends living in a cabin in the Montana mountains. I’ve never driven a BMW, captained a pirate ship or played sovereign to a county in the English countryside. At least, not in real life. Of course, I have played at all of these parts, pretending, researching, learning, understanding what makes a duchess, a thief, an assassin tick.
Though I am still a writer in my little office/bedroom, I am also a little piece of each of them, the characters leaving remnants behind in me, as I, hopefully, do in them.
Because no matter what we write, be it science-fiction, fantasy, historical or real-life contemporary novels happening right now in our real lives, we must give some of ourselves over the story, to the writing, to the characters, the sacrifice every writer must make to get it right.
Some are small – the conversation between a mother and daughter you once shared in your own kitchen. The name of a beloved childhood pet. Your favorite classic car. Some are larger, your own insecurities about the future, a fear of failure, despair at finding someone to love. Ephemeral, visceral or factual, these truths remain truths nonetheless, a piece of the author in every story he or she shares, in every setting, concocted of places you might have once been, characters that are amalgamations of every person you’ve ever met.
In the past, I have written about the idea of write what you know. That does not mean you must write exclusively about the topic of your senior thesis paper. It means we must always be looking around, listening, watching, absorbing information to recount, twist and explore when we need it later. And we will need it later.
The writer that does not put themself into their writing is a liar. Writing is an act of passion, commitment, and madness. It isn’t easy and it isn’t always enjoyable. If there wasn’t a driving need to do it, we probably wouldn’t.
But there is. Stories bubble forth from deep inside us, from the faces we see on the street and the relationships we share with our grandmothers. Writers are like sponges, filling up until we can squeeze the story out, often dripping along the way.
How much of my story is me? How much of who I am makes it to the page? It changes, from book to book, character to character, setting to setting. Some are all drawn from memory and others are entirely concocted from the corners of my own imagination. Most are a combination of both.
Either way, we must open ourselves to the idea that the truth will find its way into our stories. That push and hide and press down as we may like, our lives, our personalities, and perspectives, will always come through. And that’s okay, important, necessary. Because, of course, at the end of the day they are our stories, and they should hold at least a little part of who we are. That’s how we know we’ve done the best job we possibly could. ♦