I’ve always told stories. In kindergarten on the hottest days of the Texas year when asphalt burned and the sun blistered we would sit under the shade of a slide and I would weave a tale. After moving north to Ohio, I was the playground Dungeon Master. We were elves. We were fairies. We were dragoons. Sticks were swords. Sunlight was magic. Trees were castles.
Words were portals to other worlds.
At some point I started writing all those words down. When I was eight years old I decided to write a novel. I would be a novelist if it killed me. I was utterly and completely set on this goal. I scribbled on every sheet of paper I could get my hands on. I carried this goal in my soul for years. Until one day I wrote a novel. I was twelve. Let me tell you something… It was a misadventure wrapped in twelve layers of disaster.
Writers are insecure, egocentric monsters. Our fears, insecurities, loves, hates, lives all play out on the pages of our writing. Every time we put words down on paper, screen, stone tablet, or whatever your personal poison is, we are pouring out a little bit of our autobiography. Young writers don’t realize this. We are blind to the soul-script we are writing. It’s hilarious in retrospect.
In my real life my father had died recently and we moved across the county. In my novel a young princess’s country was ravished leading to the separation of her family. I have no idea where that plot came from. None at all. (I had a tendency to kill off any father-like figures for years. I’ve broken that habit these days. Mostly.)
We just finished a month devoted to the art of writing a novel. Take a moment to think about what you wrote. It doesn’t matter if it was your first adventure into the realm of writing or if you have written one hundred stories you are somewhere in those words.
Where are you in those words? Did you leave a small mark somewhere? Or perhaps, pressed within those pages you have accidentally left your fantastical autobiography. From the many first novels I have read over the years that is often what happens. We write a journal about our lives— only the names and the settings are changed. For the twelve-year-old me, the adventures of my main character were the fantastical, distorted mirror of my life. I wrote a journal under the guise of a fantasy novel.
Somewhere along our writing journey echoes replace mirrors. After we write our first novel, our metacognition kicks in. We realize what we’ve done. We recognize our friends and families in protagonists. We recognize our fears in antagonists. We recognize ourselves on the pages. (Sometimes we recognize our friends and families in antagonists too. Don’t judge.) It’s not a bad thing, really. We just should be conscious of it.
When looking at my writing now, I see traces of my life. They are not the journals of my past anymore, but rather their own entities. Instead of my mirrored life, I see themes across my stories that have reigned since I was twelve. Generally somewhere in my stories you will see: a four person team, birds, and a general sense of “you can always fight fate.” Reasons for these: I have three sisters and we’ve always been compared to the musketeers, my main description for years was flighty, and choices are more important than destiny.
Writing is a strange act. Given a piece of paper and a pencil everyone would write a different story. Our experiences color our realities. We draw from them to create new worlds, new characters, new stories. The only thing separating one person from another is the story they’ve lived. Where do we draw the line between our lives and our stories?