There’s an old idea that talks about everyone having at least one book in them – the story of their own lives. So it follows that every single one of us should be able to write at least one original story, right?
Nope. Nope. Nopedy nope.
Sure, it’s fine to write about your own life if it’s actually interesting/useful/educational, but few of us are lucky enough to have lives filled with the sort of adventures anyone outside our immediate families will find remotely appealing. But there’s no reason why some aspects of our lives can’t be used as a springboard for exploring a subject and turning it into a piece of fiction.
Making it Up
While I’ve often included small ‘bits’ of myself or my life in my writing, I usually take a very small part of the experience and create new characters around that experience, rather than simply writing about it as myself. For instance, a story I wrote about two men collecting occupational therapy equipment wasn’t based on anything that had happened to me, but since I know about such things, I was able to write about it with some degree of inside knowledge. The characters in the story do not exist outside my imagination.
Back in the late Eighties, I had a bout of depression brought on by a series of events which, at the time, seemed pretty horrendous, and certainly did not strike me as an obvious theme for a bit of comedic writing. However, twenty years on, I felt differently about it. What I ended up with was a monologue that became one of ten pieces that formed a stage play called ‘No Phones On Planet Pluto’.
I wrote the play with Suzanne Enoch as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, and of the ten monologues that made up the show, seven of them were mine. However, only that one initial piece was written from direct experience – the others were inspired by particular conditions, such as OCD and schizophrenia.
At the time of writing, it was a useful and cathartic process and helped me to put that period of my life behind me. Even so, the work didn’t go down well with everyone, and I did wonder later on just how much of our lives, our feelings and our experiences (good and bad) we should allow ourselves to put out there in the world. While I have no regrets concerning the piece, I also know that I could have done it differently, such as writing it for a female performer, which would have changed the piece considerably and made it less identifiable as being from my own life.
Doing it For Ourselves
I think there’s a line somewhere that can be crossed if we so wish, and as writers, we do tend to go in for crossing-the-line a fair bit, but it’s worth remembering that none of us has sole claim on our experiences, and in putting forward our own points of view, we might also be stamping pretty hard on those of other people.