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Writing on Whether to Write or not to Write Personal Stuff

Personal writing in fictionWriting about personal stuff is something that comes up around me from time to time. I have touched upon it in some of my posts, I have wondered about it in my head, I have talked about it with friends, writers or otherwise.

The other day, I heard someone ask a published author on how to go about writing about personal stuff, painful things, toxic things, hurtful things. Especially when the writing would involve not only the writer’s own life but that of others. What happens if you write about people who actually recognize themselves? What are the ethics of the situation?

Such writing has been done, time and time again. But a majority of writers, like Susan Breen, for instance, would not think of lifting a character totally out of life, and leaving him or her as is.

Let us admit it, most fiction writing starts from fact, from personal experience. But most writers use that experience as a springboard, as a platform from where they can ask the “what if” question, so that the resultant people and world they create in their work is “faction” if you like, “fact + fiction”. I belong to this category.

Very few people are as talented and as honest as Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, who could create enduring works out of their often somewhat squalid and relentlessly experimental lives. An open life is not very easy to lead.

If you are a writer, how do you incorporate personal experience in your work?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • I have been working on my autobiography little by little at my other blog. But currently I feel stuck, because of the years that I am coming up on when many negative changes happened that I am trying to decide whether I want to include or not. One of them is pretty significant as to who I became afterwards, but I can’t figure out how to write about it without being too graphic.

  • damyantig says:

    Darc, thanks for talking about your writing.

    I don’t know if it is personal genius, my parents sure hated it, because as a child I would blend fact so well into fiction….I once told them that an army helicopter had landed in our school grounds, describing everything so well, that my dad went and asked the schoolteacher if it was true!

    So I can make stories out of nowhere starting from something in my life and something I heard….but my parents called it LYING, lol.

  • DarcKnyt says:

    For myself, I have the worst time trying to relate my factual life in a fictional way. Either I can relate the events as they actually happened, or I can make a story from it, but seldom do I succeed at the combination of them.

    The exceptions to this seem to be my childhood memoir stories. I have blends of fact and fiction, all stylized and with a nostalgic feel. At least, so I’ve been told, and that is the effect I was seeking.

    I think the synergy of the process of marrying fact and fiction comes as a stroke of personal genius sometimes, but there are those that can do it habitually and well. I am not one.

  • damyantig says:

    Thank you for such a well-considered comment.

    Yes, I am completely with you there. While most fiction arises from fact, our imagination, or subconscious if you will, embellishes it in such a way as to make it not directly recognizable .

    And yes, to be able to invoke feelings in a reader is the mark of a good writer, because in that case the writer has taken something very personal and somehow transmuted into something universal.

    I hope you would come by more often.

  • daybookery says:

    I stumbled on this entry haphazardly, but I hope to look through some of your other posts after I comment. Seeing Gaiman in your blogroll, I’m going to respond with something Gaimany: I like my stories Story-ish – with a capital “s”. This means that whatever they incorporate, whatever the style, the message, however much fact informs its fiction and for however many pages, it is Compressed.

    The short-short or the Great American Novel in relation to the story is never the Whole Story; it is organized in such a manner to make you-as-a-reader feel like you know just enough to make all the furbelow pertinent, without being a dry, fact-by-fact-by-fact oriented biography. For me, the characters inspired by real people end up stylized because of this and safe-enough from being direct correlations. I don’t know, it just sort of happens.

    On the other hand, I think writing about a particularly painful and personal topic is bound to produce characters who are – if done right – equally painful and personal. A writer pained by his or her writing that is read by a person pained by the reading is, probably, a very good writer.

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