Writing what you know vs. writing complete fiction

posted by Jeff | Monday, June 3, 2019, 10:23 PM | comments: 0

I've had some conversation lately about writing with other authors, as well as some good reads of interviews for all kinds of writers (including screenwriters), and I'm surprised at how much I read about the perceived legitimacy about writing from experience and writing totally made up stuff.

I will freely admit that when I've sat down and written scenes, I draw very heavily from real-life. The reason that I have so many fragments is that I struggle to write the things that tie them together. I have some solid outlines and story arcs, but it's hard for me to make up something completely original that never happened. It's downright discouraging to think in that context, that all I could potentially do is write about anecdotes from my own life. If that's all I've got, I'll run out of good stories pretty quickly.

My more rational self of course understands that this is nonsense. Historians can be great writers, and "all" they do is compile facts into an understandable and cohesive narrative. Journalists write about facts in short, easily understood narratives.

A really big component of those conversations and interviews though come down to a more fundamental question: How much of what we do in any creative or artistic endeavor is derivative? We value originality, but unless you live your entire life in a closed off box, it's impossible not to be influenced. In music we've had a remix and sample subculture for decades and we seem to be OK with it. Hollywood and Broadway keep recycling stories.

Still, I get it, this idea that you can be a force of sheer creation to make something that did not exist before and people haven't seen it. Experience does make us who we are though, and I do suspect it can enrich the things we create.


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