What’s my number one problem when people find out I’m an author? They think everything comes from a place of truth, reality. As a splatterpunk horror writer, this should terrify people. Naturally though, people tend to realize I’m not digging up graves and fighting off sex-driven monsters of the beyond. So why, when I write about adultery do people say with bold certainty that my husband cheats on me? Why do people exclaim that I’m plagued with depression because of a poem?
I’m not super sure. But I think it comes from the concept that you have to “write what you know” which I agree with to an extent. I agree with my interpretation of it, not necessarily everyone else’s. Let me explain.
I don’t think you need to have your brother raped in front of you to understand what that might feel like. I don’t think you need to be a parent and lose a child to a monster to be able to create a scene and an emotion that is realistic and haunting. Authors are supposed to create things. That’s our whole thing. We should be able to understand enough of the human experience to replicate feelings.
For my Trekkies out there think of it like this. Writers are like replicators. We perfectly mimic the flavor of something (the death of a child, rape, marriage). People can taste it and understand, no problem. They’ll even really enjoy it but it might not quite have the right flare. That flare is actually having lived through that exact situation or making a recipe out of actual food. It’s 99% of the way there but that 1% isn’t going to ruin the flavor of the dish.
We, as writers, are able to mimic things because we have dealt with things. The more a person through, the more they can pull from. I’ve been terrified. I’ve felt desperation. I’ve felt extreme sorrow and loss. I’ve felt joy. Accomplishment and pride. All the things I’ve felt in my life I remember for a rainy day when I’m writing. I can’t write about emotions I haven’t experienced. It doesn’t work. It comes off as bad writing. My readers won’t connect.
Jason Gots writes a quick and concise article that talks about this as well. If you’re interested you should check it out. He covers it a little more in depth than I am here.
To me, there’s a very good reason why writers are considered dreamers. And it’s not because our heads are in the clouds (they aren’t). Our minds are constantly creating things, dreaming up new ideas, new stories, new characters and new struggles. We aren’t walking through our daily life and thinking, “I just broke my foot. I’ll make my character break her foot.” That’s just not how it works. At least not for me.
I’m not bound by having to write about my life.
Part of the issue with the common interpretation of “write what you know” is that you are only allowed to write about your experiences and then cover it up with different names and slightly altered scenes. Right? Falling into this trap hinders writers. So if you’re out there reading this, writer friends, write what you want! Pull from your emotional knowledge and create a believable, honest story. And if you can’t convey an emotion, well hey. That’s why authors have to read! Learn how the others do it.
But it’s more than just that.
This interpretation is more than just writers struggling to write. People are used to the idea that writers can only write what they have experienced. Not a lot of people explain their writing process, if something reflects their life or if it doesn’t. There are things in my stories that come right out of my life. And I’ll tell you those parts. I’ll be honest about that. But only after you’ve read the story (I don’t want to taint it).
This idea that I can only write about my life creates a lot of friction for me as it always has. I write dark stuff. I write messed up stuff. I also write normal fiction too that isn’t dark and twisted. I’ve always liked writing that way, since I was a little kid, four years old. I wrote poems about kids dying when they fell off trees. I wrote about people dying, people being trapped in towers, people suffering injuries. That’s just my type of writing, I guess.
Now though, I run into a lot of concern because people think I am actively struggling in my life when, truth be told, I’m as happy as could be. Let’s take a looksie.
This particular post turned some heads.
“And then there was beer on our lips. Frothing and hissing down our throats like the love stories we swallowed. Acid tumbles in my belly.
Dead roses scatter across our marriage bed now stained with the whiteness of adultery. I’m black and blue from thinking about you.
Then, like thunder on a snowy day, I’m struck by the lawlessness of life.
I doodle on the sweaty sides of bottle after bottle but the pictures run together. I cry. I scream profanities. I kick the sides of God’s glass house but no one’s there.
And the wind comes, brushes against my cheek with tomorrow’s sins. Silent inside, I listen. I feast. The rain comes too.”
All right, I admit it. I can see where the concern comes from. But I always can. I always understand the perspective, I just don’t tolerate it. I’d rather spread awareness that writers can write things like this while being perfectly happy.
To clarify, I am not depressed (no matter how much the last paragraph insinuates it). My husband has never cheated on (despite that reference to adultery). I have never cheated on my husband, (contrary to what those first two stanzas hint at) not even in a drunken encounter (I don’t really drink).
I will say one thing and one thing only though and it’s important that you hear this because it’s my personal style as a writer.
I write what I write because those are the words that come out of me.
I do not choose them. I do not think on them. I let the words flow. Generally, I end up with one draft of poetry, one draft of the shorter stuff because of that. I feel like each one has been picked by my heart without my brain even stepping in. That’s just how I write. Which means that when I read over my stories, I get to see what was going on in my life that may have inspired certain phrases. This sounds completely opposite to what I just said, right? Let me clear it up.
First, I’ll look at this from a literary standpoint:
In my opinion (doesn’t mean it’s the “right” one), the character in this piece I shared starts off remembering a drunken encounter where she professes her love for someone she knows she shouldn’t love because she’s married. She’s kept this a secret from everyone for too long. It’s eating her alive.
She’s in the present moment, looking at the bed with dead roses on it, literally. Figuratively, it’s a representation of her husband’s failed attempts at love, kindness. All she can see is what she’s done. She knows there’s still…remnants of the other man on that bed. She’s beating herself up over it.
Then she realizes, the universe has no laws. No punishment for anything. She questions everything she knows including religion because she thinks, suddenly, that we are all animals. Hungry for one thing or another. Laws, morals were created by man.
She’s drunk, drawing on condensation. She’s sad. She can’t create something that lasts. She wonders if anything lasts. She turns to religion to find that she doesn’t believe in it anymore. She’s begging for answers from a religious God her mind doesn’t subscribe to anymore.
And then her epiphany is there! Amidst her tears and crying, she goes outside and feels nature. The constant, steady nature. Wind, the most unpredictable, touches her and she realizes she knows it’s going to rain and it’s the first thing she’s been able to be certain of. Then she feels it. She knows she is part of nature, as is her husband. She will sin in the eyes of man again, but the steady drum of nature’s heart will keep her grounded.
So that’s just my interpretation of it.
After I wrote it, that’s the feeling I got from it. Did all of this happen in my life? Heck no. Not even close.
I can tell you the things that inspired this in me though, some of my surroundings that might have influenced what was coming out of my pen.
1. I had a beer earlier that night. No, I don’t generally drink but it was a special occasion so I did! Since I don’t normally drink, the thought of beer and liquor was probably floating around. The smell may have even been in the air.
2. The roses on my desk were dying. Dead the next day, I’m sure the sight of them turning purple with decay and wilting influenced me.
3. I had a sizable bruise on my forearm from some grand adventure.
4. I remember this, as I was writing my mind was drifting to various natural phenomenon I’ve experienced in my life and how each one felt. A storm was rolling in, causing me to think about thunder during a snow storm. The feeling was that nothing followed any rules.
5. Earlier in the day, I had been thinking deeply about religion. Questioning things, researching things, critically thinking about things. Curiously wondering.
6. Again, a storm was on its way.
So as we see, there are certain factors from the physical world and my life that influence my writing, which words I might choose, what scenes could look like. But the story, the themes, the message, the emotion comes from somewhere else. I am not writing an account of my life. I am structuring a story from various influences around me using emotions I have either experienced or have the ability to mimic.
So, next time you’re going to ask a writer if they’re all right, ask them this:
“Where did you get your inspiration?”
They might respond a bit more kindly.