I was at my youngest son’s swim meet today having a conversation with his buddy, Kyale, between races. Kyale said he liked to write. Called himself a “good writer.” This isn’t extremely common for a 14-year-old boy so I was intrigued. When I asked him what he liked to write, he said his favorite projects were when his teacher gave prompts that took them into writing about parts of their lives autobiography-style.
Thinking back, this was what I liked best, too. It still is. It’s not because I love talking about myself, just like I imagine that’s difficult for Kyale. It’s because this is a topic I know inside and out. I can access the dark parts and the sunny sides if I’m honest. I can feel it in my body if I’m off. Every single teacher from Kindergarten through my graduate work said my writing was tops when I could pull from those emotions. The same goes for agents, editors, mentors, writing groups, etc. With that positive reinforcement, writing confidence builds and it becomes easy to announce like Kyale, “I’m a good writer.” I’ve heard him say it more than once and I love that he feels that way because so many young writers feel they are not.
Kyale’s source content is going to be his 14 years as mine was when I was that age. However, because I was a young single parent (had my first son at 23 and was still breastfeeding when the divorce ink was dry), my strongest emotion has come through my experience as parent. I pull on my experiences some, but mainly, my perceptions of my children’s experience. I’ve often recognized that I use writing as therapy to work through overwhelming emotion and help others benefit from my stress and God knows, single parenting while working full-time, traveling the globe, and dealing with a difficult ex had its challenges.
However, recently that layer has cleared. Because my first novel hammered through the emotional challenges I dealt with as a young parent, I am now finding I’m able to go back further and access emotions I had as a 14-year-old where there just wasn’t time before. Just picking up my son and his buddies at a popular teen spot this weekend flashed me back. I had frequented the spot at the same age, and wrote a scene about it some 5 months ago. Being there, I was able to test the scene against what I’d remembered. The smells, the sounds, the tastes. How it felt to be kissed in the corner by the pinball machine. The drama that went down when Janet put her head against the locker in a wad of gum and had to have her waist long hair cut into a bob.
I’ve been told over and over just because something is true doesn’t mean that’s how it should be written. In fact, anything that gets in the reader’s way should be let go. That’s why I love novels–they give me the room to access the emotion and insert it in my choice of scenarios. Over and over I see the best writing show up when a writer is able to access those deepest emotions that he has felt and share them in vulnerable ink.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.