I’ve just started reading Wild Mind – Living The Writer’s Life by Natalie Goldberg. In the introduction, Goldberg shared part of a conversation she had with Southern Novelist Cecil Dawkins. She quotes Dawkins as saying: “Why Naa-da-lee, this should be very successful. When you are done with it, you know the author better. That’s all a reader really wants – to know the author better. Even if it’s a novel, they want to know the author.”
I’ve thought about this statement quite a bit – not so much in the context of whether a reader really wants to know me but more along the lines of what I reveal about myself in my writing. While I was working on Of Dreams and Shadow, I shared a passage with my writing class. As was the custom in our class, the instructor would read aloud two or three paragraphs and then the group could make comments. This is what I shared:
The weekend, she mused, had flown by. It seemed like her visit
to Charlotte wasn’t nearly long enough. But then again, it had
been long enough for her to feel out of the loop. Seeing Lauren
and her other friends had been great….just different. It was like
watching a movie, falling asleep in the middle and waking at the
end. You know the main characters but you miss out on some
things, things that if you would have stayed awake, you would have
known. Obviously, talking on the phone had its limitations. Small,
random things hadn’t been mentioned, probably because they had
seemed so unimportant at the time. But so often in life, it’s those
inconsequential things that bring about change. It was the little
things, she realized, that made her feel a bit like the outsider.
Without meaning to, she would catch herself comparing Jess &
Meg to her Charlotte group. They didn’t have a lot in common. She
couldn’t imagine Jess talking about the latest fashions. And Meg,
Jenna thought, with her heavy black liner and black hair definitely
wouldn’t fit in.
Jenna shifted in her seat, reached over to the radio and changed
the channel. She wondered if Lauren had felt the subtle change, the
slight distance, in their friendship. Maybe, maybe not. But for her,
it was there and it filled her with a sense of loss. As bitter-sweet
memories played out in her mind reminding her of what had been,
Jenna stared out the window, biting her lower lip, regret etching
After reading this excerpt, my instructor asked me if I had moved while in high school. The question surprised me but I confirmed that I had. Apparently, my personal experience bled over into the emotions my character was feeling. Without realizing it, I had opened a door into my life and invited my readers inside.
This probably happens more often than we know. I remember reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry was standing in front of the Mirror of Erised – seeing his heart’s desire – his parents. Rowling has said that this chapter was influenced by the loss of her mother. While I didn’t know it at the time I was reading the story, I can still remember how my heart broke for Harry. Because she was able to tap into the emotions she felt with the loss of her mother, Rowling created one of the most poignant scenes in the series.
Ernest Hemingway said: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” As simple as it sounds, being able to open up isn’t easy. Most of the writers I know are very comfortable with solitude. This is a good thing because writing tends to be a solitary endeavor. Because we spend so much time alone, I think we have a tendency to lead very private lives. Our innermost thoughts and feelings aren’t necessarily open for public view. I know this is true for me. My skeletons are tucked inside a closet and locked away. It’s a rare time that I open that closet and peek inside but being able to take a plunge into our personal Well of Pain makes all the difference in the stories we tell.