Sometimes when I let someone read my poetry or a novel manuscript, he or she asks me, “How do you come up with this stuff?” and sometimes along the lines of, “I didn’t know you can write this. You look so quiet and sweet!” Of course they’re assuming I incorporated my life and experiences into my work. I don’t go into detail about my inspiration, so I’m vague with my answers. I used to think drawing upon my life for work inspiration was a terrible thing because I wasn’t showing enough creativity and I was exploitative. Yet over the years, I realized all writers do this, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Two days ago, I watched the 2012 movie “The Words” with Bradley Cooper. It’s a Russian nesting doll of narratives about a young, struggling author who finds an old manuscript while on his honeymoon and publishes it as his own. While watching the movie, I discovered that the theme is fiction may be a story spun out of make believe, but there is always a grain of truth and an element of the writer in them.
It turned out I was right about the movie’s theme. At one point, Clay Hammond, the Dennis Quaid character, said:
“At some point, you have to choose between life and fiction. The two are very close, but they never actually touch.”
Sometimes it’s scary for a writer to put his or her own life on paper because that is their soul. When the work gets rejected, it’s like getting rejected as a person. When a loved one gets mad or upset that they’re being written about, it seems like a betrayal. Guess what? That’s all okay because it’s the writer’s work. I’m okay with it because I’ll do what I want with my writing. And I’d much rather put my soul on paper than to actually talk about my life with some stranger of a shrink.