‘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!