What is the acid test of your writing material?
Dillard relates a metaphorical story
” One bad winter in the Artic… an Algonquin woman and her baby were left alone after everyone else in their winter camp had starved. Ernest Thompson Seton tells it. The woman walked from the camp where everyone had died and found a cache at a lake. The cache contained one small fishhook. It was simple to rig a line, but she had no bait and no hope of bait. The baby cried. She took a knife and cut a strip of flesh from her own thigh. She fished with the worm of her own flesh and caught a jackfish; she fed the child and herself. Of course, she saved the fish gut for bait. She lived alone at the lake, on fish, until Spring, when she walked out again and found people. Seaton’s informant had seen the scar on her thigh.”
Just as the Algonquin woman had only her own resources, literally, our grasp of truth comes from our own experience. In my reading when I find a riveting narrative by a writer, invariably, it has the authenticity that comes from first person experience. You must write using pieces of yourself- your experiences.
Your experience is what you know to be true. Write about what you, alone, know to be true. Better yet, write about what you alone love and know to be true.
Non-fiction requires strict accuracy and reference certified documentation. Non-fiction is tough. However, I find that fiction is much more difficult. Writing fiction is not a license to lie. In fiction, you are challenged to convey truth illustrated in an engrossing narrative. The setting, the characters, and the plot can be fabricated, but the message must have the ring of truth. This feeling of authenticity comes from the first person participation in the piece of truth being related.
From your childhood through adolescence into adulthood, you have had fears, doubts, unfulfilled dreams, embarassments, victories, some grades of 100, some strikeouts, a home run, Many firsts, first night having moved from your parents house, first day on you first job. These experiences are unique with you.
I have discovered that my essays and book reviews that have had the best reception, I have started with my personal experiences. For example review of Memoirs of a Geisha (2) was grounded in my childhood experiences during World War II and my adult experience with Japanese people. In my review of Never Let Me Go, (3) I shared the influence of my family in my formative years.
In an unintended history of The Twentieth Century, my intention was to leave my sons some notes about my experiences from my life that preceded their lives.(4) I did not even recognize it as history until reviewers favored as first-person-history.
It had the ring-of-truth.
Charles Clanton Rogers, M.D. September 30, 2015, Please feel free to Reblog
(1) The Writing Life – Annie Dillard – Paperback