It’s been a scary week or so for me because my amazing friend Emily has been threatening to close down her blog. The problem was that she had suddenly decided she needed to be anonymous, but now that she’s been writing under her true name and built up such a wide readership, it’s too late. Emily is a hero and a phenomenal writer and we really couldn’t afford to lose her. She thought about it for a week and, thankfully, decided to carry on.
It is something I think fiction writers struggle with as much as bloggers. The writing persona/e or ‘style’, which might be another way of describing what we are pretending to be when we write ‘I’ is something I’ve been thinking about in terms of how writing creatively for a blog is different to writing in a diary, which I also do, and different again from writing stories, which I also do, and different even more from writing things that are apparently not fiction, but borrow some of fiction’s methods to tell their stories and yes, I do that a bit too.
To reveal and to conceal. There is no real distinction here between fiction and nonfiction. Everything you write will be coloured, to some extent, by your experience and personality. The good fiction writer can pull stories out 0f the air but in the execution, something of oneself inevitably creeps in: anecdote, prejudice, signifier. As Roth said, we leave a stain, we leave a trail, no less in fiction than in life.
As I get older, I find that my fiction is less and less autobiographical, and I’m less and less interested in myself than I am in other people and their lives. The fiction I’m working on right now is so far removed from my own experience that it’s ‘Can You?’ every single night.
This weblog was supposed to be a platform for me to rant about religion and politics. I didn’t expect ever to write anything personal on here but this changed when, in April 2008, I became an agoraphobic. I started writing the odd piece about my journey through panic disorder. I did this partly for the usual cathartic reasons – there were periods last year when writing was pretty much all I could do and was more or less the only good thing in my life.
But another part of me was thinking: take notes, pal, because this is fucking good material. This instinct spoke from what Stephen King would call the warehouse of the subconscious, where the donkeywork of inspiration is hammered out.
Recently I’ve been taking a step back from the personal. I’ve now been in therapy for six months, I am going out a lot more and taking huge amounts of pleasure from walking down Oxford Road in the evening sunshine with almost no fear. There is still loads of work to be done – my therapist is talking about getting on buses and walking up Portland Street but I don’t know that I’ve got the game for that. Most of the time, I am happy and aware of how lucky I am: finding beauty everywhere, praising my own strength and survival – for I’m still an arrogant bastard, as you know. On some occasions, like today, I feel down and afraid and perceive that I am, essentially, someone who is broken. I never quite shook that feeling of an advancing shadow tracking me down.
That pretty much exhausts everything I have to say about my personal life. That’s it. Bottom line, I’m into made-up stuff. From now on it’s Can You? all the way. What’s that line in The World According to Garp – that stuff about life’s petty traumas…? The central message I do remember: something imagined is better than something remembered. Yet despite his doctrinaire approach to storytelling, Irving’s books are full of recurring autobiographical themes and reference points. There are other writers who take the opposite approach, dredging their life for material in a weird act of auto-cannibalism.
My own view is this. If something happens to you that is interesting enough to write about, then write about it. The rest – forget it. I’ve been fortunate enough to lead an interesting life. I will always be grateful that I can say this.