Checking One's Baggage at the Door

Wednesday, May 03, 2006
"For me, writing something down is the only road out."
Anne Tyler

"Building Baby Brother" is one of the few stories that I have written from the first-person perspective. I tend to avoid writing in first person because I am well aware of my tendency to identify with the viewpoint character and become self-indulgent. I thought I had done better this time—really I had!

Two of the people who read the first draft of the story had similar reactions to one of the characters (although their suggestions on how to deal with it in the next draft differed greatly). What become clear to me, as I re-read and edited the story, was how much it revealed about my personal impressions about that character's real-life counterpart. It was unsettlingly to see and recognize it on the page. Would I have noticed it to the same same degree if it were not pointed out to me? I don't know.

I have written stories knowing full well going into them what baggage I was trying to unload (writing as various sorts of therapy), but by acknowledging that I could shape it into a reasonable narrative. It's always amazing to me, though, what other pieces of personal luggage decide to pop their hinges when I'm not looking. These revealing peeks into the author's psyche are frequently not intended (although unconsciously so is a whole other issue!).

Not much else to add at this point. Mostly an observation.
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  1. This is true of every single person I've edited, though. Your baggage shines through... but you know, that's part and parcel of your voice, the thing that makes it your writing, the thing that stamps your writing with your uniqueness. The only difference between fiction and self-indulgence is that fiction is publishable and self-indulgence, well, that's blogging. =)

    I have an entire readership over on my blog that's doing nothing more than reading about various facets of my personal baggage, brought out to the light of day, dusted off, given a bit of polish, and set up for commentary.

    The human drama is made of these little gems. And people deeply want to identify with them. They want to know that the upholstery inside your head matches the curtains they have in theirs. It makes the echoing vasty nothingness of reality seem a little friendlier, a little more populated.

    The thing that makes fiction superior to blogging is its generic-ness. When you're reading my blog, you're reading *me*, unequivocally. But when you're reading a story, heck, that character could be anyone. Could be the author, could be the reader, could be the reader's neighbor; the neutrality of characterization allows people to pick up those drapings and try them on for size.

    It's an excellent psychological and metaphysical exercise. And it takes someone gifted to create that space and hold it, for their readers.

    So quit worrying about your slip showing. And just keep writing. =) =) =)

  2. I can totally relate to your experience, Steve. I recently had Laureen edit a novel of mine. It became wildly apparent from her comments that the main character was suffering in her fictional world in much the same way as I was at that time.

    On rereading I saw, oh my gawd that is me seven years ago! It was disheartening at first to realize how much rewritting I had to do. But I found as I plowed through the rewrite that it purged old baggage. I was able to offload the old Dana, the suffocating in a relationship from hell Dana, and update my main character to what she should be given the story content. I unloaded fears and angst I'd been carrying around for years, crap I had put into her character.

    I am really happy with my rewrites, and am soooo glad to put that emotional history behind me.

    I didn't realize how much of myself went into my fiction writing until I had someone read it who wasn't afraid to hit me between the eyes. Then when I reread it, I saw clearly what had not been apparent when I had written it seven years ago.

    Now both Arlyn and I can breathe easily.

    Dana

  3. From a writer's and publisher's viewpoint that $6.99 ain't diddly squat! I wish I could charge only 6.99 for my novel, but with printing costs, mailing costs, editorial and artists fees . . . We get left with only the satification of having written and published, which seems to be enough for many of us.

    Dana

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  5. I absolutely agree with you, Dana! The money is always nice, but it just doesn't compare with the glow of satisfaction of seeing a book cover with one's name on it! :-)