This weekend got me thinking. Sunday, April 6th was my mother’s birthday, and this year she would have been fifty-five. As a way to commemorate her, my family and I flew out to San Jose to visit her grave, light a candle, place a few rocks, and remember her as she was twenty years ago.
It was… emotional, to say the least, and of course I started thinking a lot about who I am, and how every part of me connects to my writing, including her passing. So, as my second post this week (I didn’t post this on Sunday as I knew I wouldn’t be able to), I’m going to talk about how much a writer puts themselves into their writing, and how it’s not a bad thing.
There were many times growing up when people told me I should distance myself as much as possible from my writing, and that if I put myself into my characters they’d become Mary Sues (If you don’t know what this is, just wait. I’ll be making a post about it soon). So I became afraid, because no matter what I did I couldn’t separate who I am from my stories. Even now, I get people commenting on how a lot of my characters have tragic pasts, and there are “mommy issues,” as one of my friends put it. Sometimes it bothers me that I do this. In particular, character in two of my recent stories all go through something having to do with their mothers, and when my friend pointed this out to me I felt embarrassed.
After all, I’m not a bad writer. I know how to separate myself from my stories, right?
But when I think about it, I realize it’s not a bad thing. Putting myself into my books, my experiences, my pain, gives them a new depth. After all, someone writing about depression who’s never been depressed can only ever scratch the surface. The times I’ve read books where the main character is abused, usually I can tell instantly if the writer has experienced it, or if they’re writing from stories they’ve heard.
Basically? When a person has experienced something, they have a head start in making the situation real, rather than just fiction. When I write my books, in my head they aren’t fictional situations. Not fictional characters. They’re happening in real time as I write. The characters suffer and react to that suffering.
Just as I did.
For the longest time I wanted to deny this, but every single one of my characters is a part of me, just as a part of me made it into them. So yes, a lot of my characters have mother issues. Mine passed away when I was a few minutes old, and to this day I’m still half convinced it’s my fault my dad and step-mom divorced. When it comes to mothers, my only experience with them is pain. All the mothers I write who are loving are a dream I have. It’s what I would want from a mother. Quite a few of my characters have had abusive pasts (especially in Elephant), but guess what? I don’t know what a normal family is. The most normal my life has been was after the divorce, when I lived with my engineer of a dad and an autistic brother. That typical family, father, mother, two and a half kids in the suburbs? I know people who have those lives.
I don’t know what it’s like.
What I know is crazy. I know pain, and I know suffering, and those things end up in my stories. But I also know fun. Laughter. Love. Excitement. Fear. Friendship. Hatred. I know what being human is like, and I put that into my stories. My experiences, my emotions, they’re what drive my writing. For those who know nothing about me? All they think is I’m a kind of creative person who likes to write. For those who’ve had the chance to get to know me will see more than that. They see my past and my struggles represented in different ways in every single one of my characters, and in every one of my stories.
I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I used to, and sometimes I question it. But you know what? If everything I put in to my stories about me, myself, and I, makes it better, and helps readers connect to it? Then I don’t see what the problem is. After all, don’t you write for yourself?
Thoughts? Anyone out there disagree? Agree? Do you have any part of you in your stories? I’d love to hear what anyone has to say.