Friday, March 10, 2006

My Crazy Cousin - Writing About Your Own Life

My cousin is crazy. Certifiable.
Up until his eighteenth birthday, that is throughout my childhood, he was in and out of hospitals. At eighteen he moved somewhere rural (I have no idea where) and severed all ties with the family. Except for me. Why me? Because when I was sixteen I hid him for a whole day from his father (my uncle) who wanted to hospitalize him.

This morning at 6 am my cousin called me after a year I haven't heard from him. He called me at 6 am to invite me to his wedding. It's the third invitation I get to his wedding in about the same number of years. I've always accepted the invitation and promised to attend until he disclosed information about some plans he had for the wedding, plans I refused to be a part of.

My cousin isn't dangerous. I don't believe he'd ever done anything to hurt anybody, and I don't believe the authorities had ever had a reason to lock him up. As far as I know. He was also never in jail. As far as I know. But. But he is a fanatic and has questionable beliefs of a zealot and I always worry that someone, some radical group, would take advantage of him and make him do some crazy thing.

Only this morning, after talking to him and after getting back to bed it occurred to me that I never wrote about my cousin, our childhood together, our escape from the adults etc.

It dawned on me also that I have actually never written about my life.

I heard somewhere that usually one of the first novels writers write is about their lives. Some sort of an autobiographical based novel. Fictional with personal facts. An experimental examination if you like.
I also heard that the last novel writers write is also an autobiographical novel. This time different. More facts than fiction and a more tender voice.

I have yet to write about my life. Of course, I occasionally put myself in my characters and of course one aspect or another creeps into my stories, but I have yet to write about my life.

Is that normal? Have you?

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Pat Kirby said...

Since I write about mi vida loca all the time on the blog, I guess I do. Haven't ever done much about me outside of the blog, though.

Am debating a nonfiction project about horse training, which is a huge chunk of my life.

kalbzayn said...

I most definitely don't write about my life in fiction. I like my life and all, but I'm kind of around it quite a bit as it is. I do my best to take a break from my life when I write.

Nienke said...

I recently gave up "the novel of my heart" (read: novel about my life) for the "book of my voice." I actually posted about it after reading an article by Julie Elizabeth Leto on the subject.
I decided that if I wanted to be a published novelist, I needed to write a marketable book, not a book that was cathartic to write. I haven't abandoned that first novel, but I will now only pursue it for my own personal satisfaction.

Jennifer said...

I LOVE writing about my family. Of course living in the military I've always had fun stories to tell.

I recently started writing all my memories down and have been VERY SLOWLY writing it up. I don't expect anything to come of it...I write it so that future generations of my family know something about me and so that I can pass on some history...that and I love writing down the stories I remember.

For me--basically it comes down to that it is entertaining. Writing for no other reason than because I want to.

While parts of me and other family memebers and friends end up in some of my characters, I don't 'write my life' in fiction. I tell a story. I leave the 'life writing' to posting on my blog and for my family.


Ken said...

I tend to start everything autobiographically, then in rewrites I hack out the unnecessaries and change it enough to be fictional. I usually try to change the characters and often the story's outcome. The personal themes remain, though. When my family and friends (think they) find themselves in my writing and say, "Is that what you think of me?" I can say, "It's not you, it's fiction."

Aristine said...

i have and then proceeded to prompltly do a cntrl A and Del. Anyways, liked your post, maybe because i indentify with parts of it.

Will search intermittently for your autobiographical first novel.


Carter said...

I think every story I write is about my life in some way, though never literally. My experiences and thoughts (and weird family, isn't everybody's?) are a large part of what make up my themes, characters, and voice. If you look at it from a less practical and more philosophical viewpoint, I suspect every fiction writer can say the same. For nonfiction, probably not so much.

Melly said...

Pat, that would be so you :)
I never thought of writing book length non-fiction despite writing lots of nonfiction. Perhaps I should consider it too.

I hear you Kalbzayn. LOL. I guess I feel just about the same as you do.

Oh, Nienke, too bad I missed it. I'll go see if I can find it. Autobiographical doesn't necessarily mean not marketable. It all depends on how it's done I guess. Don't give up on you heart story :)

Jennifer, writing memoirs sounds like fun. I haven't even done that ever. The little tiny bits I put on this blog is the closest thing I have to a journal or a memoir.
So it sounds as if I'm not the only one not writing about my life in fiction :)

LOL Ken, good one. "It's not you Eric, didn't you see I spelled it with a K - Erik?"
That's interesting, to start with a basis in your life but then take off. Maybe I should try that and see how my life would have been different if...

Aristine, I have an intimate relationship with the cntrl A and Del :)
Don't search too hard, I'll wait fifteen more years I think. Oh, who knows?
And thank you.

Carter, as always, only too true words. I guess that indeed from a philosophical viewpoint it's quite true. Didn't think of it that way.

Jean said...

Hmm. I think there are fragments of me in each of my characters. The key word is fragments. The real question is, which parts are fragments and which parts are made up? I've decided not to tell. And, really, what does the reader care? It should be about the story, not the author. It does seem natural to wonder how much real life creeps into an author's fiction, though.

Deborah said...

When writing fiction, I can't seem to avoid injecting my experiences/attitudes into my characters to some degree. Often, I'll blow these experiences up to something worse than my own. I find this to be better therapy than sitting in the shrink's office.

melly said...

Of course you're right, Jean. It should totally be about the story and not about the author, but autobiographies have this thing that they are about the authors :)
Yes, I think your fragment definition is a good one. I probably do put fragments without even noticing it.

melly said...

Deborah, I think we all use our writing as a form of therapy. ALthough sometimes I feel it actually agrevates things. Depends how I tackle them I guess.

Jonathan M. Dobson said...

I'm going to skip the question prompt and say I'd like to learn about the relationship between you and your cousin. I think your post is more about that than whether or not all of us write about our lives.

Because when I was sixteen I hid him for a whole day from his father (my uncle) who wanted to hospitalize him.

Hooked me.

I've always accepted the invitation and promised to attend until he disclosed information about some plans he had for the wedding, plans I refused to be a part of.

Okay, several barbs have pierced the inside of my cheek at this point.

But he is a fanatic and has questionable beliefs of a zealot and I always worry that someone, some radical group, would take advantage of him and make him do some crazy thing.

I'm flopping all over the river bank, gasping for air, caught, had, made, fish fillet.

dog1net said...

Dobson raises a good question. When we compose essays, poems, plays, stories and novels, we are writing about life--about the human condition--from our unique perspective based on the experiences we've had throughout life. As such, we must listen for, feel out, and think about the words we use in expressing particular moods, ideas, and experiences. In doing this, and in practicing it, we invoke the power of intuition, which, in essence, is the power of the "inner voice."
You have the makings of a terrific essay. Like Dobson, I, too, would like to learn more about your relationship between you and your cousin. As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, "Take something specific to write about," and then "penetrate that experience."

Patry Francis said...

I've written short stories with autobiographical elements, but for me, the joy of novel writing is making things up, living a life more dramatic, more horrible, more wonderful than my own, then being able to turn off the keyboard at the end of the day, and return to my own quiet room.

Melly said...

Jonathan, thanks for asking - that is so sweet. I guess that was my point, that we all have some stories to tell. To us they may not feel as stories because it's our "trivial life" but they're still stories.
As for answers... I guess you'll have to wait for my autobiographical novel to come out, if it ever does...
(Sorry, don't mean to avoid the issue, but prefer not to expand more than I did here :)

Hi Scot, thanks.
I guess I just discovered that I do have some interesting things to write about my life only when I wrote this post. The way I looked at my life so far has been, well, trivial, nothing special and exciting. But you're right, this can be a story and it's great to hear how it peaked your interest. :)

Patry, that's the way I've been looking at it too. I probably will continue to feel the same way until one day I will say, 'it's to write about you, missy.' ;)

Diddums said...

I write about myself on my blog, a bit - I suppose it's partly to show what it's like to be me! I feel there are things about my life that shouldn't go unrecognized. Once I wrote a short story to explain something I didn't do - everybody understood and had a good laugh as well. It took off from there; there were more stories based on the same character, but I've not added to them for a while. Just writing my blog for the time being... keeps me ticking over. ;-).

Melly said...

Diddums, that sounds great. To explain via a story. What a wonderful idea.

Wenda said...

I have no opinion on what is normal, but I do write about my life. Plenty.

I'm glad I've found your blog and look forward to reading more about your life if you decide to write about it.

Wenda said...

And, I'm with Jonathan, I want to hear more about your relationship with your cousin.

"And fish can swim near the surface, but it takes a great whale to go downstairs five miles or more." ~ Herman Melville

Wenda said...

"And" was meant to be "Any" in that quote.

Melly said...

Hi Wenda,
I too am glad you found me, cause now I found you too :)
I guess I'm just not that open about my life, but perhaps it's something I should explore more.