Creative writing is, by nature, a very personal profession. Writers write words, and these words, ideally, trigger emotional responses in readers. Writers draw on their own experiences and feelings, in the hope that in representing these, the reader will feel a story just as much as read it.
I thought I’d write this post on ‘personal’ writing as an author, more than a reader, so please, forgive the shameless mentions of Loathing Lola. It’d be hard to write personally about getting personal without it. 🙂
Getting personal in print is more than simply revealing secrets and sharing life stories with characters’ real names substituted for fake ones, the magical ingredient of stories – the ‘What If?’ mechanism that makes a real event ‘creative’ – allows you as an author to divorce yourself from simply retelling your life. Instead, you look at the event that inspired you, and its characters, and you look at them with an author’s eye – you look at their motives, their hidden insecurities… re-writing your world creatively allows for you to better understand your world. And grow.
Loathing Lola began as a novel I wrote in Years 5 and 6, and was drafted close to twenty times before its eventually-published incarnation. In Year 5, I was in the middle of my parents’ divorce. I didn’t write about their divorce, but I did, in a way. Most of my character’s feelings were my own, the references to past experiences (the unpaid Child Support, the Apprehensive Violence Order, our own financial struggles) were very real. To alleviate the suspicion of those reading it, I changed the gender of the protagonist to female, and I wrote about her hating her father’s new girlfriend and striving to get her parents back together. While it wasn’t literally about my life, I never did anything Courtney did (the ‘What If’ driving the story being: ‘What if I did?’), a psychiatrist would have a field day reading it.
As I grew older, the story evolved. Looking back at the story, I didn’t believe what I had written, because despite the heat-of-the-moment things I had written about unpaid Child Support, the Apprehensive Violence Order, and our own financial struggles, I didn’t hate my father, and I didn’t hate my new stepmother. To be fair, I didn’t know them. And I sure as hell didn’t want my parents back together. I only came to these realisations when I read the father/stepmother characters’ stereotypical portrayal in Loathing Lola‘s earlier drafts, and Courtney’s unrealistic Hollywood-style unbridled hate for the stepmother and need to The Parent Trap them back together. The unbelievable aspects of the story forced me to look inside, and question my own real-world beliefs.
This caused me some problems, because I now had a title I loved (Loathing Lola) and a character who didn’t loathe Lola. Great. Reality TV was my saviour (another ‘What If’: ‘What if my life was on TV?’), because it allowed me to challenge the ‘typical’ perception that children should hate their step-parents because they’re replacing their biological ones. In the final version, Courtney has to deal with people expecting her to hate her stepmother, when she doesn’t know really know her. This blind, stereotypical hate is something Courtney rejects in the narrative.
So, while I’m not female, and I’ve never had a TV show, getting personal and working through my own feelings through Courtney not only gave me a stronger and more realistic narrative, but it really forced me to look at myself, and my own feelings. Was I feeling them because I had to? Were they justified? Or was I just feeling ‘typical’ feelings because I didn’t actually know them?
And while it’s difficult dealing with emotional uglies – I’m currently working on a book that focuses primarily on dealing with my close friend’s death, and it’s hard – it’s rewarding, not only for readers, but for authors. I like to think I better understand myself, and my life, thanks to Loathing Lola, a piece of personal fiction.