Life in Writing
When I was in college at CU-Boulder, I had a poetry professor tell me that my writing was egotistical, selfish. He then proceeded to gut my writing with one caveat: I was good at prose but seriously lacked as a poetry writer. As a 19-year-old kid who believed that writing was the only thing that I excelled in (and poetry was a big part of that, this cut me off at the knees (like many artists, I was a tad oversensitive).
I looked at my work and I found a very present word: "I." Soon, everything I wrote was insufficient. Working diligently to focus on others, to pull the work outside of my own self and my experiences, I felt that my new writing was dry, manufactured, and full of false importance. I spent three years believing one man's words about mine.
Having good grades, I got into the honors program and my honors thesis adviser (he's now Dean of the graduate) started asking if I wrote for fun. I confessed the moment that seemed to disable my creativity. He then started talking about how Wordsworth felt that all writing is inherently about oneself because you cannot adequately write from the perspective of another - or even from an omniscient view - without inserting your life (feelings, experiences, prejudices) into every word. In fact, the more you deny your role in your work (by trying to be someone else), the more you exacerbate it. I accepted this fact and because of it, I am a better writer.
My WWII historical fiction novel Why Aren't You Sweet Like Me?? was published this year by the Sunbury Press. In it, I write from the perspectives of my grandmother and grandfather. I identified with them (using my grandfather's letters and my grandmother's interviews) while I also had to empathize heavily with their situations in order to capture the time; as such, the experiences that I describe within the text are inherently about me as well: how I would respond, how I feel, how I express emotion. This book is about them and I honor both Honey and Don through this experience, but I cannot remove myself from my writing. They are the same.
For instance, there is a scene with a plane crash that actually took place in 1943. It is heavily documented in military records and newspaper articles. Everything I have concerning this incident is from an outsider's perspective, that is, people wrote about it in a detached way because they weren't present for it and professionalism desired that type of language. The scene is mapped out but I had to lift it from the yellowed pages to make it involving, traumatic, and believable. That's what writing truly is: leading a blinded reader down a path and letting them use their imagination to experience your story for themselves. But just remember, you are the one holding their hand; insisting otherwise will only discredit your work and impugn your audience.
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