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Using Everything

April 4, 2011

A foundation piece of advice on how to start to write is to begin with what you know by writing your observations on everyday life. Every moment in a writer’s day offers the opportunity to explore characters, settings or plot diversions.  “Use Everything” is a catchphrase amongst many writers–including my own. Regardless as to what has just happened to them–the idea is that at some point, one can integrate it into a piece of writing.

Until now, I have blithely burrowed into my past indiscriminately, picking thorough both good and bad experiences in order to breathe life into characters, plots and settings. I am fortunate to have traveled widely and have a breadth of interests which in turn allow me access to a huge cast of characters, events and situations.

Recently I experienced a traumatic event which shook me in a way I’d not expected. I’d always felt I was pretty tough, world-weary in parts, but with a hide thicker than a rhino. The past few weeks have seen me thrown into the arena of trauma counselling and endless self-analysis.

Immediately after the event, I flippantly suggested (on Facebook – where else?) that there was always a bright side and that at least I had a renewed stock of experiences on which to draw when I wrote.

As days go past, the nightmares flood what dream time I have and I wonder if I can ever use this experience. Dredging it up and reliving it seems to feed the trauma, forcing me to renew the fears and anxieties it has bred.

Obviously for legal reasons, I cannot recount it in the written form (to be fair, not that it has ever stopped a writer fictionalising an event). Certainly I agree whole heartedly that writing forms a great part of self-analysis and self-development allowing an author to explore issues in-depth; but in relative safety. I wonder though if fictionalising it will truly cover it or fully allow me to express my reactions.

Perhaps it is simply that it is still too fresh and the cracks in my tough veneer have split into visible gaps.

This whole experience has left me with a new appreciation of authors who share traumatic life experiences; from horror crashes to survivalist episodes.

Are there experiences either so raw or so close to you that you cannot or will not draw upon them in your writing?

Do you have “No Go Zones” in your writing?

Image – “Mind” from Write Anything’s Image Library.

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Annie is still trying to locate the silver lining in this cloud. Sometimes she wishes she didn’t have such a vivid imagination. Follow Annie here on Twitter and begin your escape into her worlds here
  1. April 4, 2011 8:24 am

    Graham Greene famously said all writers need a chip of ice in their heart to make possible the detachment from experience writing requires. For me the things I shy away from are those that might impact on others. I wrote a short story recently based on my perspective of an incident I was a witness to in my early twenties. Having committed the first draft to the page I have filed away the story as I am still undecided whether or not to go further with it. I think a writer’s gut is a good guide to what is fair game and what isn’t. If you are hesitating there is probably a solid reason.

  2. April 4, 2011 8:25 am

    I have to say, my life up until this point has been sickeningly idyllic. I’ve had no family trauma, no deaths of close friends, no impossible-to-reconcile differences between anyone I know… at all. My home life is unwaveringly stable.

    It does present some difficulties when trying to write through a dark or disturbing image/plot/situation since I don’t have any relateable feelings I can tap into. I also have trouble writing emotionally-leading plot lines simply because I don’t and never have been lead by my emotions.

    So no, I guess I don’t have any no-g0 zones, but that presents it’s own set of difficulties.

  3. April 4, 2011 11:52 am

    I’ve often used personal experiences (fictionalised) in my writing. My first Chinese Whisperings story was largely based on personal experience, although my character was purely fiction. But there are some things I’ve not yet dared to write about. Others, required some time before I could put them into fiction. Recently, I stirred up a little hornet’s nest in one of my pieces and it’s coming out soon. Now that will be interesting.

  4. April 4, 2011 12:32 pm

    I haven’t had traumatic events, but I’ve had things in my life that aren’t so ordinary. It creeps into my writing subconsciously, but I don’t look into my life on purpose necessarily. Maybe it’s because I’m a discovery writer?

  5. April 4, 2011 2:43 pm

    I often use personal experiences in my writing, though I usually change enough details that nearly no one will recognize it. In some cases, I won’t post or share a story if I don’t feel like I masked the things well enough that friends, family or… people with whom I have a challenging relationship… won’t recognize themselves.

    There are some stories that I haven’t yet figured out how to tell in a fictionalized-enough form and, therefore, they’ve been reserved for future use. I still write them down, because that way they get out of my brain, but they get password-protected and locked away to protect the guilty. I will, eventually, get around to fictionalizing them enough to share.

    I figure that if I’m ever “worthy” of a biography or autobiography, I can tell the stories in a non-fictionalized format and see if anyone puts them all together.

  6. April 6, 2011 9:59 am

    Great advice about writing here, especially regarding inspiration for writing, what I call “playing the believing game. I want to share this link ( as another example of what you’ve written about above.

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