Thursday, January 11, 2018

On Writing: The Personal Story

**On Writing is a series of posts about, well, writing. They will mostly be geared towards writing fiction, but writers of other genres will find them useful as well.**
         Sometimes it seems as if one of the easiest things to write about as a writer would be something that we know a lot about – our own experiences. We think our personal story is interesting, might be of interest to others, or even may help others recognize the same experiences within themselves (and thus normalize the experience). It can seem, initially, that writing the personal story would be easy – just put to paper (or computer) what you have experienced.
It's personal
         Depending upon your experiences, it may come out as an easy task. If your experience isn’t majorly negatively emotionally tinged, or if you have moved past the negative emotions of that situation, it could be an easy write. But what you may also realize in the writing is that perhaps you haven’t moved past those negative emotions. Putting them to text can bring those emotions to the surface, creating a not-as-easy-as-you-thought write.
         When I first began writing Hidden Fears: Parenting a Child with Autism, I thought it would be an easy write. I would sit down, I imagined, and I would just write about our experiences daily and – bam – my book would be written with some but not too much effort. Then I got to a specific part of the story and I literally “just couldn’t.” I didn’t want to sit and write and whenever I did sit down to add to that section I just cried. A lot. So rather than giving up, I moved on to another section of the book and decided I would come back to the emotional section later. 6 months later apparently.
         As the writer I thought, OK, so what is going on here, why is this so hard? Rather than processing it in my head, alone, I processed it in writing, allowing the reader to see that, “Hey, this section right here? It was difficult. So difficult that I walked away and came back to it multiple times.” And as people who write about and read about personal experiences, we need to see that. Because a reader doesn’t know that this section here was extremely difficult to write because it brought up so much emotion. They see paragraphs, pages, words; they can’t see your process.
         In demonstrating/documenting the process in the writing of the personal story, we’re allowing the reader to experience what we experienced. It may help them to recognize the same process in themselves, which makes us all feel a little bit more normal. It humanizes the author to the reader. It gives the “been there done that” feeling without the psychological reactance that actually hearing that phrase can cause.

         If you’re writing a personal story, recognize when your emotional portions of the story are bogging you down and flooding you with emotion. Sit in those moments. Describe those thoughts and feelings. Show your readers that what you wrote may look easy because you could put it so succinctly in a few paragraphs, but this shit was actually hard. It’s your personal story – don’t flatten it out into a few paragraphs without giving it the attention to the emotional portion of the experience (and the experience of writing about it).

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