“Write what you know“, they said. “Look to your own life for inspiration“, they said. So I did, only to discover there was indeed a story lurking in there. But now, plodding along somewhere in my last chapter (not including the epilogue) I’ve been getting a distinct feeling that perhaps – oh shit – I’ve written far too much of me into the novel.
First-person was always going to be tough not to completely separate, but when the main character is living through a similar major arc to a chapter from my own life – a major chapter dotted with incidents and incitements whose kernels are pulled from my own memories and the collected fireside tales of my colleagues at the time – then complete isolation got tricky. Next time (and there is most certainly going to be a next time, premise and rough plan already being held back while I finish the current opus) I’m going to stay far, far away from anything even vaguely connected with my personal life or personal history.
Why? Well, not because I’m in too deep. It’s not like there’s been an Adaptation moment where I’ve realised I’ve written myself all the way in. No, our hero still isn’t me exactly. But sometimes he thinks and speaks like me; therein lies the problem. Call me paranoid, but should this beast eventually make it out there and published, there’s enough of my calling-cards in the current draft that people who know me are more than likely going to assume it’s all me. Or worse: know it’s not, but in later years, only ever remember the fictional account of the few scenes which I did lift from real life. Or even worse: I forget how things really were, and only remember the semi-fictional account I put to page. (To be clear: lifted the setup and the scenario, but I’ve mostly let the characters play things out organically within those scenarios, without too much forcing of square pins into round holes). Then there’s the exes, the one-night stands and the crazy germans who I guarantee will read more than their fair share into some of the fictitious-but-littered-with-hints-of-memory events in the book, and very easily become enraged to nostril-flaring, forum-burning proportions.
All sounds a bit presumptuous, self-centered and delusional, but that is precisely my issue: perhaps in a completely fictional universe, I wouldn’t have any of these insecurities bumping around, because hey, who cares? It’s my book, my story. If they don’t like it? Fine. No problem. I guess it wasn’t the book for them. But once that fourth wall has been broken, even just a bit, suddenly I feel more responsibility over how it’s all going to be received. Bad enough that this is my first novel, likely to be torn to shreds time and time as it is, purely for being the first, with all the rookie mistakes.
Which is fine too. I’ve learned a lot, and I can’t wait to get cracking on the next project to put all the new lessons into practice. I don’t entirely regret the inspired by actual events path that was taken, but I don’t think I’ll do it this way again. All the normal writer’s insecurity stuff aside, I’m mostly just sick of spending so much time in my 2003-4 headspace. A fantastic, thrilling, reckless and memorable time for me, possibly the most. But in other ways, the most lonely and self-punishing. And I think what’s bugged me the most during this process: if bits of me weren’t flooding so many of the scenes and situations I think I’d be much more able to switch off and walk away from the character when I’m not typing at my desk. Instead, I’m going to sealed-off places every night, writing them like it’s still fresh and raw; dredging up real shit for the sake of dredging up real shit kinda sucks.
But hey: if it makes for a better book, then whatever. I shouldn’t complain; I should just keep typing, then vent about the murky stuff afterward on a blog. “Write what you know“, they said. So I did, only to discover there was indeed a story lurking in there.