Can writing change the writer?

Ever since I read a quote from a blogger who said that blogging had changed him (but gave no indication how), I’ve wondered if I can point to any differences in myself as a result of my slogging through almost two years of writing blog posts.  At this point I’d say no changes are clear.  However, as much as I stay the same after writing these personal essays, I am certain that writing fiction will cause a change.

Fiction that isn’t an author’s personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn’t worth writing for anything but money.  (writer Jonathan Franzen)

I saved this quote because it represents one of my biggest challenges in trying to create interesting main characters and plot. It’s not easy to read about the suffering of fictional characters, their miserable childhoods, teenage temptations or tragedies, fraying or dissolved marriages, bouts of depression, losses of loved ones, conflicts with the law, struggles with failure, or their humiliations. But it’s easier to read about someone else’s invented characters than to write about the sufferings of my own. Putting a character born in your own imagination through such horrors is excruciating.  I want to protect them.  To create memorable characters and stories it’s as if you have to put yourself through hell along with them.

The reader expects that the protagonist will be forced to confront things he’s probably spent his entire life avoiding.  (screenwriter and author Lisa Cron)

Exactly the problem I’m facing.  Years ago a friend and I agreed that we would try to live our lives according to the motto, “Never lose face.”  While I haven’t been especially successful in living up to that motto, you get the idea that I’m not one who’s spent a lot of time looking for adventure, risks, or danger in life.  Imagine then how difficult it is to make my character face all these things.  My villain caused her to lose face in the first scene.  I haven’t yet fully developed her or the bad guys, because I’m still protecting them. I ‘ve set up barriers between them and certain situations they must face to keep the story interesting, situations I, personally, would avoid. And now I have to break down the barriers.  I know when I finally do, I will be stepping into frightening territory in which my character will become more vulnerable and I will have to join her.

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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3 Responses to Can writing change the writer?

  1. Sharon says:

    So what I don’t understand is the problem is why there would be a problem with “writing for anything but to make money.” That is what all professional writers do isn’t it?

    • stillalife says:

      Unless you’re one of a dozen popular writers, Stephen King, for example,the odds are good you’re not going to make a lot of money. It’s a tough way to earn a living. Everyone wants to be published, but most don’t get published, but they keep on writing anyway. First, you have to focus on producing a well-written book with memorable characters, great plot, etc. And that can take years.

  2. Jill Turnell says:

    I have the same problem with my characters – or at least the main character – When something bad is happening, I want to quickly resolve it as it is so uncomfortable – which is actually how I also live my life – try to avoid conflict – try to avoid pain – – When I do rescue my character, it is a great relief – but then I know I don’t have much of a story – so I’m still working on it. I don’t know if this helps me as a person, but sometimes life itself makes one grow – and change.

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