Just what the doctor ordered

‘Write what you know’. It’s well-known advice but, actually, I think you can’t help but write what you know. That’s hardly a revelation; it’s a popular notion that a writer’s politics, experiences, agendas etc will always infiltrate their writing no matter how hard they try to stamp them out. I’ve been in a reflective mood recently, and I’ve been thinking about how my personal circumstances have affected my own writing.

I’ve been in a reflective mood because, last year, I suffered a relapse of my illness and have been spending a lot of time resting/thinking. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). I have it easier than a lot of other sufferers (I can write every day and manage low exertions) but, sadly, my illness still defines what I can cope with during my day to day life. Leaving my little village is always a struggle, sometimes even leaving the house.

Looking back, I can see that this frustration underpins nearly all of my stories, narratively, thematically, everything-ly. In Tethers (my first book) Karl and Esther complain about being stranded in their home village of Shraye. To them village life is so tedious that, as soon as an excuse to leave arises, they do so, regardless of any obstacles or dangers they might encounter. Some readers have had a problem with the logic of their decision but, given my own personal experience, it seems like the most natural thing in the world to me.

In Wye (my second novel) Wye is travelling from A to B with B being halfway across the country. Travelling so far on foot is arguably a stupid risk to take in the dangerous world that Wye is inhabiting. Once again, however, I’d do it too. Even in my current WIP my protagonist is running away from her home planet, seeking out the deepest, most remote part of the solar system.

As soon as I write something substantial (in terms of word count) I don’t think I can help but let my personal frustrations and wants seep into the text. I’m not sure it’s a bad thing either. In a way I’m living out adventures through my characters. It’s just happening in my imagination, in my head rather than in reality. Despite being near-housebound for large chunks of the last few years I’ve sailed along Victorian coastlines, sliced through hordes of zombies and dodged bullets in zero-G.

Recently, I’ve come to realise that writing is a kind of therapy for me, not just a career choice. By allowing me to have adventures and explore worlds beyond my village I think my characters help me just as much as medicine and medical advice does. In fact, I think I’d be lost without them!

What do you think? Perhaps you find a different activity therapeutic (I get similar benefits from reading). Let me know in the comments section!

12 thoughts on “Just what the doctor ordered

  1. Sorry to read of your relapse. I hope it is short lived. I believe anything that allows your mind to inhabit a different space can be therapeutic. I personally have writing, reading and painting that all helped me immensely when I needed some distance from an awful situation. Wishing you all the best.

    1. Thanks for your well wishes, Pat! Well put, I think gaining distance from a tough situation is so important – a healthy bit of escapism 🙂

  2. Thank you for writing this piece, and I hope your relapse lifts soon. I also suffer from mild/moderate CFS and enjoy some escapism. It feels a little silly for an adult, but I really love any sci-fi or superhero movies that involve characters who have special powers but also face many struggles. It reminds me that I have special skills and things to offer the world, but I also have my kryptonite. Sewing and crocheting also allow me to let my mind wander if it’s to muddled to focus on a book.

    1. I don’t think your love of superhero movies is silly at all! I can see how it’s totally inspiring to watch other people struggle and triumph against adversity. Also, The Dark Knight is one of my favourite films of all time and now I have another reason to revisit it; to read it in terms of people battling against illness/darkness.

      Sewing sounds like perfect escapism too. And you create something as well, it sounds like a very similar therapy to writing.

  3. For me, writing is the only way I can use any of the masses of useless information that my memory has gathered over the years. From upside-down Ns on shop signs to what it feels like to sail in a force 6 wind, it’s all locked in my head, and it’s of no use until I release it on the page. What I find amusing is that most people who read my stories have no idea how much of what I write is personal experience or retained knowledge (I’ve been swimming in a mountain stream in Wales and cooked baked beans and corned beef while camping in a tent – all real experiences). And then, when I do make something up, very few people can tell the difference (I’ve never gone fishing in my life, and I’ve certainly never travelled in space or been to Texas – but I wouldn’t mind doing all three). So while authors write about what they know, I guess we also write about what we’d like to know.

    1. Hello Jack, Tethers was exhilarting. I’m a avid sci-fi reader and am excited now to read many other works you’ve completed, after finishing the trilogy of course. I enjoy helping others when I’m not feeling myself.Singing and music and escape into a really good book. Thank you for the escape.
      Ohio Usa

      1. Yes, I totally agree. Doing something positive for other people can really help you to brighten up too 🙂 And music is also important, the soundtrack of our lives! Thank you for reading!

  4. For me, writing is a therapy as well. I like to write fiction, and I blog as well. Regardless of which I write, I do find that my personality and beliefs seep through. And my beliefs are influenced, partly, by what I’ve learned from going through chronic illness.

    In some ways, I do believe we impart some of ourselves to some of our characters. It does reflect us a bit.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Crys!

      I’m really glad you agree and you put the core message of the blog post so well – ‘my beliefs are influenced, partly, by what I’ve learned from going through chronic illness’. The experience of having a chronic illness changes you as a person (in my experience at least) and therefore your writing can’t help but morph as a reflection of this experience. I find it hard to think of many characters I’ve written that don’t have some aspect of myself in them (probably why some just don’t work!), and I really do believe that putting a part of yourself down on paper, getting it out of you and examining the result, is a very therapeutic process.

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