There’s an old saying that dates back to like ancient Greece or something – if the sandal fits, wear it.
As a writer who has done countless fictional and semi-autobiographical works, I can say with full knowledge that being someone who is creative and writes and then actually lets folks read said writings totally and completely BLOWS.
I am amazed at bestselling authors. Sometimes I read a book that has stayed on the charts for years and think what are people reading? Other times I am fully aware that they are reading because it is controversial and maybe not even that great of a story but throw in some hot topics like sex, religion, conspiracy, sex, gender inequality, and sex you got yourself a spot on Oprah. oh wait, if Oprah was still around.
I bet if you sat that author down and you said, draw me straight lines from your real life to this book, there would always be a pretty chart (especially if you use colored pencils) and there will be all kinds of people embittered and on the brink of lawsuits or in actual lawsuits along the way.
In writing classes you’re told “write what you know.” It’s the oldest trick in the book (pun intended). Why wouldn’t you write something deeply personal and reflective and based on something that you (1) are interested in, (2) either already know a lot about or are eager to do the research into, and (3) have something to say about? You write started out on the premise that there is a story in you and that you have to figure out what the story is, where it’s going, and how you can control everything in it to a desired outcome.
Fiction is fun that way. We get to control it. we do not get to control life.
The problem is when you know the author and his/her story and you start looking at clues for their life in there. People generally have no real reading comprehension skills and are just fine with jumping to conclusions and seeing everything through a fairly myopic self centered lens. I remember in a class on Shakespeare, the professor went to great lengths to talk about the tradition of using “old” stories to tell new ones – Greek myths, etc – and that Shakespeare’s personal life cannot and should not be directly correlated to events in his plays. When the movie Shakespeare in Love came out I thought a lot about my prof and if she was appalled. I almost emailed her to find out what her take was. I’m sure she was furious. And in some ways I wonder about that for all books. I’ve sat through classes where professors go through the biography of the writer to get “context” and what not and then I have had profs who say, who the heck cares what the writer’s life was like, just read the darn book on its own merits. Does it tell a good story? Do the characters work? Do you feel like someone ripped your guts out? Then it’s good and worthwhile.
But the truth of the matter when you get to the bottom of it is that we don’t really give a flip about the AUTHOR, we care about ME. We want to see what the author is saying about ME in there – a sad commentary on modern times. This is heightened when I know this author and I know that s/he will say something terrible about ME (this begs the question why do I think that) and so I am suddenly on red alert and everything is going to be read through a filter that is whatever the opposite of rosy colored glasses is.
I’m really trying to not say much more because contrary to any fictional work I would write, this here blog is 100% REAL LIFE and while I don’t want to deliberately go around making people mad at me, I certainly welcome the tension. Tension is good. If someone is going to write something harsh and grim about me in their life and the impact my actions and my behaviors had/have on them, I would read it willingly, openly, repentently, and full of humility. And then I would with all due respect stop being an idiot and do what I’m called to do instead of whatever lame thing I was doing that made you want to write a book about me. You know like how God wrote the Bible about me.
Or maybe a fictional character called Robin Jester. If you need to know for sure, call my lawyer.