Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Learning from writing

"Because I am thinking so much about the past these days I have come to see that the past is always changing, is never static, never 'placed' forever like a book on a shelf. As we grow and change, we understand things and the people who have influenced us in new ways."
--May Sarton, The House by the Sea

I recently wrote something that was partly informed by my own life experience. I could not have written it the way I wrote it back when I was closer to the events that influenced it. The story reflects where I am now, what I have learned since then.

I'm working on something now that has been emotionally difficult because I've been stuck, viewing the situation I'm writing about through one narrow lens. And when I write, I can't use a narrow lens. I may root a story in one character's worldview, but as the writer I have to understand every character in that world, including the villain. I have to see the world through the villain's eyes, at least temporarily.

To improve this story, I have to humanize a character that I hate, and in doing so I know I will come to hate the character less. In fact, I will end up loving that character (which is different from liking or approving of the character).

As long as I'm mired in judgmental loathing, this character will stay flat as cardboard. The interesting thing is that facing this issue in my writing requires me to face some truths about my past, to grow in ways I haven't been willing to grow until now.

Writing isn't therapy, and I don't write literally about my life. But there's something beautiful about the way this distillation process works, about the way a story and a writer work on each other.


  1. It really is interesting how a story and a writer work on each other. Writers need their experiences to fuel the stories, yet we grow as the stories do, don't we?

  2. Thanks, Annie! And yes, Cynthia--it's a two-way street. :-)