Author Toolbox Blog Hop: Keep a little of your self for yourself

I’ve been grappling with the “Write what you know” adage again. Earlier this month, about midway through the third week of classes, I made a list in my journal of “Things I have learned in grad school so far.” At the top of that list is this little note to myself:

Keep your interests and passions alive…Not everything you experience has to be fuel for your creative fire. In fact, it is probably best if that’s not the case. I am all for going out and experiencing life and drawing from your well of memories to inform your creative work. But keep a little of your self for yourself.

I know that the old saying of “Write what you know” is largely a matter of being able to convey truth in fiction. “Write what you know” means using your knowledge to inform a story, making it more believable to the reader, and doesn’t necessarily mean that you must write solely based on lived experience.

But the idea still persists that writers, to some degree, must use their lives and their memories to fuel their creative works. Pushing this idea, though, can quickly become problematic.

I think of this tweet thread from the poet Chen Chen:

When I read this tweet thread, I couldn’t hit the retweet button fast enough. And I feel that this idea may work in reverse: Not only is there the presumption that minorities have more trauma to write about, but when they do write about trauma, they must be writing from personal experience.

Do my experiences (some of which, yes, aren’t all sunshine and daisies) inform the stories I write? Yes. My stories are often built up around something I’ve done that I then twist, change, and alter until I’m not writing about a memory but something completely new. Still, I sometimes worry that, although I am writing fiction, readers may try to “decode” the story by retracing my steps to find the original sliver of my reality that served as the starting point, and then take it one step too far to try and decode me. While I don’t strictly believe in the “death of the author” mode of performing literary criticism, I don’t particularly enjoy the idea of people trying to pass judgement on my life through the medium of the stories I tell. That’s unfair, I think, to all stories that writers write.

I’ve deviated a little from the first lesson I’ve learned in grad school: Keep the passion for things outside of writing alive. I worry, sometimes, that the idea of creative burnout isn’t taken seriously enough. Not only are writers overworked, with the constant hustle of the publishing game and all of the necessary tasks that pile up in order to make a living as a writer. But there’s an expectation that writers, and all creative types, must perform some kind of self-immolation in order to be a “real” artist. Everything about us is fair game for the works we produce. But we can’t complain about how heavily this weighs on us, because artists have the “luxury” of pursuing passion rather than pragmatism.

Don’t buy into it. Keep a little of your self for yourself.

What do you think? Is everything in a writer’s life fair game? How do you find the balance between your writing life and your personal life, if such a balance exists?


This post was written as part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop organized by the human dynamo, Raimey Gallant. Every month, authors at all stages of their career blog about specific resources/learning opportunities for fellow writers. To continue hopping through other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, click here.

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Reblog from Raimey Gallant – Announcing new monthly blog hop for authors: #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Hi everyone,

Life has been busy, but I just wanted to take a quick moment to share this new blog hop hosted by the wonderful Raimey Gallant! I’ve added my name to the list, so I’ll be posting every month about tools and resources I’ve come across that are (hopefully) helping me along my (aspiring) author journey. I also urge you to regularly check in on this hop once it gets going and read the advice from the participants. I definitely will be, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot.

As a teaser: My first post will be about time management for aspiring authors, especially for those who are working full-time and trying to make headway on improving as a writer. Be on the lookout for that closer to the start of the hop on April 19th!

Ever yours,
Caroliena

Raimey Gallant

Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

For those who aren’t familiar with me, I created the 400-participant Nano Hop in 2016. We aren’t going to let this one-time-signup, monthly blog hop get quite so big. I think anywhere from 20 to 30 participants would be a great number for the first hop in April, and considering how many people I recruited for my last hop, 20 to 30 for a start won’t be a problem. You will get out of this hop what you put into it. Because of the way the rules are laid out, if you give 20 comments, you should expect close to that amount in return. If you’re hemming and hawing over whether to sign up, remember that those coveted top positions in the blog roll are first come first serve.

The Rules:
1. Theme:This is a monthly blog hop on the theme of resources/learning for authors: posts related to the…

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The view from December

I entered this November with a very particular set of expectations, and came out of it with those expectations shredded, taped back together, then ripped apart again as I tried to squeeze out 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo.

And I did it. I reached 50,000 words, bragged about it (with charts!), and now, on the first day of December, I’m sitting at my desk, thinking about writing, being a writer, and the election.

To start, a quotation that has been with me all year:

Art can’t save you from pain, but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.

—Molly Crabapple, Drawing Blood

Before November 8, I focused on the part after the comma: “but the discipline of hard work can drag you through it.” This was the phrase that got me to pick up my pen every day and write. I was intent on gaining the discipline I had so sorely lacked as a student. I was intent on getting better at this craft. Whatever “it” was, I dragged myself through by digging my pen into the page and scratching deeply.

After November 8th, I focused on the part before the comma: “Art can’t save you from pain.”

I wrote some in the time immediately after, but I engaged more in all the feverish activity of calling representatives, supporting organizations fighting Trump, and having those conversations of “What now, what now, what now?”

NaNoWriMo slipped away. I had built an early lead of a few thousand words, and as the days after the election passed by that lead got narrower and narrower. When I decided to try and write for NaNoWriMo again, I felt hollowed out and drained from the tears, the anguish, and the uncertainty. It was so hard to bring myself to write the story I set out to write.

I made peace with the possibility that I wouldn’t reach 50,000 words.

And at first, it was fairly easy to give it up. Everything else seemed more important: supporting vulnerable communities, engaging with people, and gearing up for the fight ahead. It was easy to tell myself that winning this year’s NaNo would be minuscule compared to everything else. (If I’m being honest, I still feel this way to a certain degree.)

But then I picked my novel back up. After a few days away from it, I saw its worth again. I saw that though it isn’t the most topically relevant story, it’s still an important story. I reaffirmed my belief that I must finish a draft, even if it’s a terrible, sloppy, incoherent mess of a draft. (Because turning it into something great is what editing is for.)

I got so close to 50,000 that suddenly the idea I wouldn’t make it seemed unconscionable. I needed to make it, more than I had needed it in the past.

Now, I feel like I can see the quotation as a whole.

I reached 50,000 words, but I’m nowhere near done with the draft. I still haven’t decided if I’m going to keep adding words to it in December, or if I’m going to shift gears and edit some short stories from the summer before coming back. But I’ve decided that I can keep fighting the good fight while still caring about the little fictions I eke out in the in-between times.

Art may not save us from the incoming administration, but the intrepid act of making it can drag us through it.