January 28, 2013 by talkaboutyork
For the last few months I’ve been doing a writing course. It has been interesting. Like doing a course on learning how to walk. Imagine it. You have walked since you were anywhere between nine and eighteen months old. Unless you’re a catwalk model, you’ve probably not considered your walk much. It’s just something you do. So going on a course to learn how to walk would be odd. You have to break it down and analyse what you’re doing. All of a sudden walking becomes quite a challenge. You become more aware of what your legs are doing, how your arms are swinging, how long your stride is, whether you roll in on your ankles. Little things you just did but are now aware of.
That is what this writing course has been like. I’ve had to deconstruct whatever I write and think about every part of it. Sentences stopped flowing as I analysed each word used. Some assignments were a joy and just came naturally. Others took ages and I ended up trying too hard.
I’ve now reached the final assignment where I have to write a scene of my choosing. I have written the background work – outlining a summary of the scene, describing the back stories for each character, writing how they physically react to the situation and giving a detailed picture of the scene setting. Now I just have to write it. Four times. Getting critiqued each time.
What I’ve found most difficult about this assignment is choosing the scene. When you can write about absolutely anything you are swamped with choice. I decided to write a scene that actually happened in my life, simply changing the characters’ names. Perhaps it was cheating, but I felt I could write the most
easily compellingly about people I knew, a place I’d been and a thing that had happened. I didn’t need to imagine it all and then try to find the words to fit my imagination. I went for the easy way out. I am writing about what I know.
This is advice I’ve heard many times. To write about what you know. But it throws up a question. How do you write (I am thinking beyond the scene and more about a novel now) about things and people and places you know about without causing upset? Surely everything you write reflects what you are and what you think about things? If I for example decided to write a book about a mother who wanted to escape doing the laundry and set sail across the sea, would I upset my husband and children when I describe what life at home was like? I would need to make it sound worse than it was to make it work as a piece of fiction, but surely it would lead them and others to think that what I was writing was at least partially true?
If you can’t pull on your own life experiences to write, writing becomes a great deal harder. But doing so means you’re very likely to upset someone. Not dissimilar really to writing a blog at times.
I’d love to hear from other writers and how they have overcome this issue. Are you all just blessed with the most incredible imaginations? How much of your fiction is based on fact? How do you merge the two? And has what you have written caused upset to those nearest and dearest to you as they recognize themselves as characters in your book?
Thanks in advance for any thoughts. I’m off to write my scene now…