"Once Upon A Time I Believed I Went Far, Far Away When I Wrote, but That Was a Delusion," admits Tanya J Peterson
Like many, if not all, novelists, I’ve been asked familiar questions: “How do you do it? Where do these stories, these characters, come from? How do you put the ideas together?”
While the questions are of course genuine, I’m not so egotistical that I believe people are in awe of me. As people, we are intrigued by what others do. I might ask someone how they can handle going into a bank without having a panic attack. With a genuine phobia of all things financial, it is truly amazing to me that some people possess this skill.
So no, I don’t think I’m amazing. Quite the contrary, actually. I’ve often secretly believed that I can write because when I do so, I escape. I leave myself behind. My characters take over. I shed all thoughts of self and transport myself into the world of my story.
I thought I knew the answer to the question of how I do it: I disappear for a while, and when that happens characters and a story come to life. It’s a double bonus. I’m relieved of myself while having fun building something new.
I was sure that this was the answer to the question regarding how I can write the novels I do. I was sure, until I wasn’t. Yes, I knew that my background contributes to my knowledge base, but I left it at an intellectual level. I recently realized, though, that there is more to “me” than my intellectual knowledge.
The realization came to me when I read a comment in an e-mail I received recently. I had interviewed a psychologist for an article as part of a column to which I contribute weekly. He stated, “Your writing is so authentic, revealing, and approachable.”
I was rather dumbfounded, and I embarked on a quest to analyze all of my writing to try to understand why he said this. I was shocked to discover that I don’t escape myself when I write.
Bits of “me” are woven though everything I write. Nothing at all is even remotely autobiographical, of course, but pieces of my life experience appear in the subtext of my stories. The factual stuff has been obvious even to me: I’m credentialed as a nationally (US) certified counselor, I live with mental illness, I’ve been in a behavioral health hospital, I’ve been a teacher and a school counselor. These objective experiences helped shape Leave of Absence and my upcoming novel My Life in a Nutshell.
Beyond the basic facts, though, I deluded myself that I was escaping who I am. I’m rather startled to have discovered that I have not, in fact, been creating people and stories from a remote distance. Who was I kidding in thinking this?
Pick up any book that you love. Ask any passionate author about his or her writing. There’s a connection between writer, character, story, and reader. It’s a flow of emotion and empathy. That cannot be created by a writer who has distanced him or herself from telling and the feeling. Writers, even when they aren’t writing directly about themselves, write through themselves.
As much as I believed I was escaping myself by writing, I must admit that I’m not. My stories, like other writers’ stories, come from deep within. I forget myself, yes, so the characters can emerge. But I don’t remove myself.
My novels are about the power of human connection. I suppose I’m proud to be part of that connection.