Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Survival Tip #8: Getting Personal

I know I said in the first Survival Tip not to take any of this personally... unless you already made it personal by writing about your life in some kind of vaguely fictionalized way.

Case in point:  The Query Shark's latest chum.  (My apologies.  Apparently, he asked to have his query removed right after it went up - and after I wrote this post - so the 'case in point' will have to fly without your actually being able to look at query #237.)


This poor guy wrote a book about his life and added some fictional elements to snazz up the place.  And what he got was a poor treatment of his life and a poorer treatment of his query.  (Not that Ms. Reid wasn't justified.  He asked for it; he got it.  Toyota.)

If you feel like you MUST write about your life in some kind of fictionalized way, you're going to end up taking the rejections personally.  Who wouldn't?  See, this is why my college English professor told us all that we needed distance from any story before we could do the story justice.  Distance, my friends, is the getting personal without letting all the rejections get personal.

I feel bad for the guy who offered himself up as bait for the Shark.  He thought his life was pretty interesting.  It probably was.  Hell, my life has had its share of interesting bits.  I've even thought about writing some of them down in what would have to be a fictionalized memoir (because I can't remember all the details of the events - not because I want to pull a Mr. Frey.)  I haven't written it because I was too close.  I may always be too close.  Hell, I'm living this life, so it's kind of hard to divorce myself from it.

On the other hand, they do tell you to write what you know.  And as Ms. Reid pointed out in her critique, the gentleman did do that - perhaps to extremes.  I think the idea, though, is to weave bits of yourself into your work.  It is not to have yourself and that work be intertwined.

There's nothing wrong with getting personal, folks.  But like Aristotle said 'everything in moderation'.  Take bits of yourself to weave the tapestry, but don't give all of yourself.

Because, let's face it, folks - no matter how interesting we think the entirety of our story is, it just won't sell as is.

What about you?  Have you ever thought of writing a memoir?  Do you use bits of yourself into your fiction?  How much is too much?


  1. Ooh, I saw the 'discussion' Ms. Reid had on Query Shark and the New Rules to Live By! But I was late and didn't get to read the query that started it all.

    Memoirs bother me in that no one can remember in that great of detail (unless you did some serious writing at the time of your life you're writing about). How can you quote people? How can you include such detail like what you were wearing, what you ordered, etc. And this bothersome for me happened before the Mr. Frey incident. Give me an autiobiography any day - but not a memoir!

    So, to answer your question - No, I've never thought of writing a memoir! And, yes, I probably do include bits of myself in my fiction - or anecdotes I think are relevant to what I'm writing. Not a lot, but some (we write what we know, right?).

  2. It's probably best that you missed it, Janet. I really felt bad for the poor guy. Putting yourself out there is hard enough with pure fiction. To do hit the Query Shark with a fictionalized version of your life?? No way, Jose.

    And I totally agree - no one can remember stuff in that great a detail. That's probably why agents look at memoirs the same way they look at fiction. The only memoir I'd even think of doing is based on my experiences as a head injury survivor. I think about doing it to help other people going through what I went through, but like I said, I'm too close to it to do it justice.

  3. I'm biting my tongue...biting it...biting....

    Okay, now I can answer. I've never thought about writing a memoir (unless it was to be flash life is blessedly boring otherwise). I use bits of myself (and people I know) in my fiction, but not much. I think more than 1 or 2 percent is probably too much.

  4. You're probably right, JB. One or two percent of real is enough.

  5. I'd be better off telling my life story to some kind of professional than writing my memoir. For sure I should do that first. Like Janet and JB, I think there are bits of me in my writing but that's as far as it goes.

  6. Maybe that's the secret, Karyn - hiring someone else to write it. That'd provide the distance and a little objectivity. =o)

  7. Uhm...I've led a crazy life and done a lot but the only "memoir" I ever considered writing was my dad's. Unfortunately, he died before I could make really good notes.

    As for adding bits and pieces of myself into my work? Oh, hell yeah! I have a character who rolls her head on her shoulders and anyone withing five feet can hear the snap-crackle-pop. *raises hand* I have another character who is completely freaked out by the movie BAMBI. *raises hand* There is a third character with a young daughter who lives and breathes LITTLE MERMAID, who wanted a real Little Mermaid costume for Halloween, and who ended up helping a local weatherman give the weather report one day. *raises hand*

    As a writer, if you can take the immediacy of an incident--the details, the emotions, the actions--and incorporate them into your writing, that makes your writing read more realistically. In that sense, I'm all for putting a piece of yourself into your writing.


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