Wednesday, November 9, 2016

On Writing Yourself into Your Characters

Hey there.

This is a post I started out nervous to write, because it meant I'd have to get a little honest, but writing is about getting a lot honest, so here's a good place to start.

Every character that I've felt I developed well has pieces of me in them.

Zayla deals with anxiety.

Cameron doubts his ability to care for those around him.

Alyssa cares what people think of her.

Keiko feels alone at times.

Macy struggles with her self worth.

Bellamy is self-centered.

Judah would rather listen than confide.

But what I've realized is that, by writing about my own flaws, I've touched on the very things that connect us all as humanity--as readers, as writers, and people.

Because, whether or not your flesh looks the same as mine does, we all struggle at times with something, and our struggles are connected.

I was thinking back on the writer's conference I had the chance to go to last year, and reminiscing about what was one of the boldest things I'd done as a writer. In front of most of the conference attendees, I decided to read my work.

I was originally going to read a poem I'd written that day, because it was safe. (and an entertaining analogy between a bad relationship and a fridge.)

But I listened to the heart the other writers had poured into their work, the rawness and yet the quality of what they'd written--and right there, minutes before my turn, I realized I needed to be brave.

There was a piece I wrote about my precious baby Macy, in which I quoted myself.
You see, Macy has anorexia.
I do not have anorexia.

But I knew what it felt like to be trapped in my head, in a cycle of thoughts. I knew what it felt like to be in bondage to fear, to attempt to control that with regulation.

And, even though I wasn't anorexic, I wrote my own thoughts into this character. I knew I hit on something, then. I knew I had written something that might just resonate with another person who had battled fear.

And I read that piece.

I didn't realize just how connected one person's pain could be to another's, but, after I stepped down, and the reading ended, a woman came up to me. Her piece had been about hospitalization--for anorexia.

And she looked at me with tears in her eyes, and she thanked me, and told me I was brave, and hugged me.

The next day, she came up to me and hugged me again, told me I was beautiful. She said she didn't know what my story was, but she said that I needed to keep writing.

She didn't know I wasn't anorexic. She didn't know. I didn't have the heart to tell her. And I felt that I didn't need to--because the words I'd written still came from my heart. And those words connected with her.

Looking back on this moment--something I come back to whenever I need the motivation to keep working on my craft--has taught me something.

We don't all have disorders. We don't all have stories that brings tears to the listener's eyes. But, man, we've all got struggles. Some of us have to fight harder than others in some areas, or even in general, but pain is part of living in this imperfect world. If we are willing to look at our struggles and see how those manifest in other people, maybe even in greater ways, we can begin to understand them.

Empathy and understanding can help. People facing huge battles are the same people that face little ones. They are human. And yes, their thoughts may look different than yours, but, if you're willing to understand--you might find you and they are more similar than you thought. You might find a place of compassion. because, no matter the battle--physical, mental, situational--we are all human, in need of grace, and desperate to be understood.

Basically, what I want to say is this:

I don't know what hurts you now. I don't know if you have a condition. I don't know if you have a backstory that brings tears. I can't say I do. But I know you have experiences that, if you're willing to look at them honestly, can bring hope to people you'd never expect it would. If you have found hope, you can share that hope with anyone. So write pieces of yourself into your characters. Let honesty bleed through. Don't assume everyone will be able to fight the same way--listen to their stories. But find places to connect with them, because those places exist.