Watch any interview with just about anyone who creates or performs some kind of art and you’ll hear the same question, just maybe in different forms. To clarify, when I talk about ‘art’ I don’t just mean a drawing or a painting or a sculpture. I mean to include all the types of art that we tend to forget is exactly that. Film, theatre, street performances, books, TV, music, poetry and beyond.
And what is that question? Well it comes in many different forms but it is basically how much of yourself bled into this?
You’ll perhaps recognise this from interviews with actors such as Robert Downy Jr being asked about playing Tony Stark in any of the Iron Man or Avengers films where a journalist might say, “So, just how much are you and Tony Stark alike?” Or they may even say, “There seems to be a lot of similarities between you and Tony Stark, would you agree?” After which you can see Downy trying to politely point out that he’s an actor who is married with kids and not a weapons manufacturer who sleeps around or a superhero.
But then, if you’re a supernatural fan like I am, you might hear the cast tease each other that they sometimes forget that they are not their characters.
So is that question as ridiculous as it may sometimes seem?
If the world cared as much about books and poetry as they do films and TV then you might have more access to interviews with authors but while I’ve listened to a few I have very rarely heard the, “so is the protagonist like you?” But maybe that’s just my limited experience with it.
A lot of writers say to write what you know but then you’ll get other writers telling you not to do that at all. As I said in a previous post, I write what interests me.
Eminem said music is reflection of self (‘Sing for the Moment’) and for me that is certainly the case with my work. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all.
Rainer Maria Rilke said (‘Letters to Young Poet’, Letter 1):
“Do not write love poems; avoid at first those forms which are too familiar and usual: they are the most difficult, for great and fully matured strength is needed to make an individual contribution where good and in part brilliant traditions exist in plenty. Turn therefore from the common themes to those which your own everyday life affords; depict your sorrows and desires, your passing thoughts and belief in some kind of beauty – depict all that with heartfelt, quiet, humble sincerity and use to express yourself the things that surround you, the images of your dreams and the objects of your memory.”
Some people might say that writer’s have a responsibility to the world to write a revolution of their genre but I say that we owe the reader nothing but something good.
By that, I mean, “I’m not gonna write you a love song ’cause you asked for it”. If you want a love story for the ages then picking up my copy of a story about a thirty-odd year old man who is dealing with an abusive childhood might not be your best bet. Or if you want this generation’s next big sc-fi number then my book on the friendship between two men who meet in college in Oklahoma then move states is probably a long shot.
However a writer does owe it to the reader and themselves to write something of good quality, you shouldn’t finish a book and think, ‘yeah, the idea was good but the language was lazy,’ but that doesn’t mean that we should all try to be Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare either. I wrote my first book because I started looking into Kenneth Williams (British actor) for my own curiosity and an idea developed. My second book came from watching an episode of the TV series ‘Lewis’ (episode “And the Moonbeams Kiss the Sea”) which made me want to explore the idea of a character who has autism but devise a plot that wasn’t centred around that. My third came from listening to a song of Garth Brooks’ that I’d never heard before.
If you look at all of my stuff you’ll find – a few characters that smoke because I used to; ones that drink whiskey because it’s my poison; a fic based on the idea of a character developing a heart condition because I was born with one; stories set in Scotland, and Edinburgh, because I live here; music that I listen to popping up; characters playing games I play; characters influenced by stories I’ve read or films I’ve watched; a whole fic based on an idea from listening to a song I liked…
The list goes on.
You could argue that I’m limiting my work by doing that and I wouldn’t disagree with you but what I would say is this: I researched Army ranks and KIA/MIA protocol when I was writing a supernatural fic with an army AU. I didn’t know any of that before I researched it. So, if I’d wrote solely what I know then it would have been a very confusing and misinformed mess.
I write what I know because that, for me, is like the seed that plants an idea in my head, and then I water it with what I didn’t know and just wait for it to just bleed together.
As Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”