One of the most difficult aspects of writing (for me; your mileage may vary) is treading the line between my own life and experiences and the situations I create for my characters. Most of us jokingly talk about our characters as though they have minds and wills of their own, but the truth is, they come from inside us, from the collection of our thoughts and feelings and histories.
I’ve been wrestling lately with the ongoing conversations about #OwnVoices books and good representation. I cannot, and will not try to, represent every person from a particular group. Anyone looking for perfection or someone who captures their personal experience is better off looking for either an author whose history closely matches theirs or else writing their own. That is not to say I won’t be sensitive to poor characterization and stereotypes, but trying to get every detail “right” is an exercise in futility. There will always be someone who claims it’s wrong for them, and the effort can result in books that read as “educational” rather than authentic storytelling.
With that in mind, I wondered what it is that I can bring to the table. I sometimes feel inadequate as a writer. I’ve only been at this for a comparatively short time, at least in publishing. Almost exactly three years ago, I sent my first manuscript to a publisher. I will be forever grateful to the friend who encouraged me and a publisher willing to take a chance. I now have half a dozen novels to my credit (#6 is out in less than a week), with one more in edits, one in the writing stage, and one in the planning stage. Hardly a veteran, but at least now I know more what I’m doing than I did at the start. Even so, it’s hard not to be insecure in the face of so many successful authors.
I’m finally beginning to see some patterns in what I write. For most of my life, I’ve felt like I was “in between.” I’ve never really fit into one category or another in many ways. This comes out often in my writing. In particular, I like dealing with the juxtaposition of faith/doubt, belief vs. unbelief. Interestingly, I get comments quite often on this from readers.
My relationship to religion is complicated. On the one hand, it’s been a source of great pain and trauma. There are many things in my life which likely would have been different if I had not spent so long in conservative/fundamentalist spheres. On the other hand, it’s been a source of life for me as well. This is something I like to grapple with in my work. It’s where I’m most honest.
I’ve written a lot of religious-spectrum characters, more often than not fictionalizing my internal struggle. I also like to play around with what it means to be a person of faith, sometimes allowing my characters to freely express themselves spiritually in ways the church considers taboo.
It’s possible there will never be a time when I feel whole, fully healed from these spiritual wounds. I’ve come to accept that. I went through a period of time when I wished I could “pick a side” in many ways. Now I see it as being a good thing, a way in which there are opportunities to grow and find balance and harmony between my dual identities. Belief/unbelief is simply another facet of that, and one which drives a lot of my creative force.
There’s no telling what the future will bring, but I think rather than worrying about whether I’m “getting it right” when it comes to a character’s identity, this is what I want to focus on. I can be brutally, painfully honest about these matters because they are so close to my soul.
What about you? What brings you to your place of greatest creative energy?