This post is kind of a response to something that Marie Loughin said in yesterday’s comments. Her statement, if you haven’t seen it:
There’s a difference between writing novels on an intellectual level vs adventure level vs personal level. I think the most personal are the hardest, because you add in an element of fear along with a deeper need to get it right.
So true, though what surprises me the most isn’t the fear of “getting it out there”, I’ve talked about some of the stuff in the novel with other people before and it’s jumbled enough that it’s not the literal truth; I’m not a sex addict or a dentist. I’ve never had a threesome with a subordinate or been arrested with a prostitute. Those are the surface details of the story that I’m writing, but there’s something rawer and closer to reality just beneath the surface, something that I’ll talk a little bit about as we go through future posts.
I really have two fears when writing this book; the first is of facing demons that I have locked away for one reason or another. This book has brought up previously-unrevealed emotions about events in my life, sentiments that surprise me as they spill out on the page but ring true for what I’ve gone through. I can see how a certain scene in a restaurant might form a dark mirror version of a situation that I found myself in just a few years ago.
It’s an interesting process, but as it went and more of these moments arose I found myself fearing what might get dug up next. Naturally, a great deal of trepidation came with bringing up not one but two of the most traumatic events in my life (in obscured versions of reality), the kind of trepidation that freezes you. I could neither go forward nor backward.
So that’s the first fear that I felt in writing this novel. The second is borne of a concern that I might inadvertently hurt someone that I care about. I have no desire to use fiction as a weapon, to hurt and besmirch others, even those who might have done bad things to me. This means that, as a scene evolves in proxy to a traumatic event, it takes very precise care to avoid implicating someone or reproducing something verbatim from the past. Character and plot are supreme for the story, of course, but those can be guided to some extent and must be guided if it’s in the name of protecting people.
This is a fear. Words have a great deal of power and have to be used wisely; I wouldn’t dare compare them to something deadly like a pistol, but the same principle applies in that when handling the “live ammo” of the past, you must have a healthy, respectful fear of the consequences.
In the end, fear drives good art. Fear of your own mortality, fear of the past, fear of the present, fear of what may never be. That’s not to say that fear is the only emotional driver, it’s simply a powerful one, and I respect it.