Learn How to Project (and Find) Yourself in Your Writing

Have you ever found yourself looking up from the pages of a book and wondering how much the words you’re reading are a reflection of the author’s own personality and life?

We’re all familiar with famous examples of autobiographical fiction (such as Dickens’s David Copperfield) in which it’s easy to draw parallels between the make-believe and the real life. But most of the time, the reality on the page is a far cry from the reality of the author’s life. I remember being devastated when I learned one of the favored authors of my childhood, Will James, was not the rip-snorting, free-wheeling cowboy portrayed in his books.) But certainly the adventures on the pages of a book are just as intimate, if more obscure, a portrayal of the author as the “real” persona he presents to the world.

David Copperfield Charles Dickens Lone Cowboy Will James

Think You’re Not Projecting Yourself in Your Writing? Think Again!

Inevitably, all our story ideas are reflections or results of something in our lives, however unimposing. Our stories are us. Even when set in the far-flung regions of space or told through the viewpoint of a character of a different gender or race or age (or species, for that matter), the stories are a reflection of our own beliefs, our own psychological idiosyncrasies.

Sometimes this imposition of ourselves into our work is very obvious. When I craft themes around the subjects I’m most passionate about, I’m inevitably aware of it: I am intentionally projecting myself into my writings. I am consciously making the decision to display a truth that goes deeper than just the characters or the story and reflects upon my own personality and paradigms.

But what about unconscious projection? What kind of story does my writing tell about me as a person? Why am I attracted to certain kinds of stories? Why do I write historicals and fantasies instead of cozy mysteries? Why is self-sacrifice such a moving subject for me?

You Might Learn More About Yourself in Your Writing Than Even Your Readers Will

Some of these questions I can answer pretty easily, of course. But some fascinate me by the very fact that I can’t answer them. Sometimes, after letting a story sit for several months, I can go back to it with fresh eyes and wonder where certain passages came from—because they sure didn’t seem to come from me.

Dreamlander NIEA FinalistMy stories aren’t autobiographical in any sense. As I mentioned in the post about writing what you don’t know, I prefer to explore tales set outside my own field of experience. Like many authors, I tend toward introverted bookishness and let the swashbuckling side of my personality find fulfillment on the page.

But it’s an interesting fact that my stories’ themes, no matter how randomly I’ve selected them, inevitably mirror my personal struggles at the time of my writing. In my portal fantasy Dreamlander, I wrote about the purpose of life—how we find it and how we fulfill it. Ironically enough, some of what I wrote ended up later smacking me right in the face as the answers I was seeking myself. Most of that, of course, is a God thing. But it’s also an interesting psychological fact.

The idea that certain elements of the author’s personality are reflected in his fiction—or of his unknowingly working out his own problems through his characters—is fascinating to me, not only on a personal level, but also because it presents a deeper reading experience, bringing me closer not just to the characters of other writers, but also to the writers themselves.

Tell me your opinion: How much of you is sitting there among your characters?

Learn How to Project (and Find) Yourself in Your   Writing

 

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. I’ve heard that when you dig deep enough inside yourself to supply genuine emotions to your writing, it can be theraputic. . . or frightening. For me, I figure it would be frightening. That’s why I write fluff. 😀

  2. Well, I haven’t been frightened yet. Though sometimes I wonder if I should be! I got a kick out of Diana Gabaldon’s private giggle when a fan when on and on to her about how horrible her villain was. Gabaldon just smiled and didn’t point at out that, since she’d made him up, the villain was really her.

  3. Good food for thought. 🙂 Makes me wonder what my current WIP says about me! It’s a really strange premise… *sigh*

  4. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone who could translate our works for us and tell us what they reveal about ourselves?

  5. A writer can best write about things they are most familiar with. When one sits down with an empty page this can be a deep soul searching time. It’s great therapy.

  6. It *is* great therapy. Personally, I don’t often consciously work out my own problems on the page. It’s the unconscious work that always fascinates me.

  7. I’m new here. It’s wonderful to meet you, a real author.

    One of the greatest things about writing for me is that I’ll write things that I won’t even recognize as my own work when I go back to them on a later date. That boggles my mind, sometimes frightens me and often excites me.

    I’ll be looking for more of your words.

  8. Thanks for stopping by, Shaddy! Yes, I couldn’t have said it better myself. Sometimes I’ll be reading along and come to a passage that makes me stop and look up and ask, “Was that me?” It’s always exciting – and humbling – when that happens.

  9. Nice blog! Enjoyed reading your observations on writing. And the lucid style too. Thanks!

  10. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Great post! The next time I pick up a book by someone I know, I’m going to be sure to see if I can spot the author in their characters.

  12. I think I prefer *not* knowing the authors. I like the mystery!

  13. Having worked on one particular story since my early teens, I’ve found some very interesting insights to my teenage self among my characters. Personality traits I admired and loved in them back then are things I now recognize as their biggest flaws! It’s kind of funny to see what I prioritized and prized back then, compared to the way I’ve matured now. My characters learn a lot more lessons now, too! 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s fascinating to go back and read earlier works and see your old self in them. It’s like meeting an old friend!

  14. thomas h cullen says

    I no longer think on this level. To get to the level of The Representative, one’s forced to see reality on its own literal level, thereby seeing from then on all the parts which make up the common experience of reality as just that: parts.

    The Blockbuster movie releases. Political Elections. The daily routine of work – the then nightly routine of TV entertainment – etc etc etc.

    (The sort of recognition to make you go round in circles.)

  15. My first book that is coming out in March of next year makes me excited but also terrified at what people will learn about me! I feel there is more of “me” in that book than many of the others I’ve written although they all have ties to me in deep ways. There’s a feeling of exposure by putting myself out there in my fiction, that is terrifying. I think understanding this gives more weight to me as I even try to write . . . wanting to be as closely connected to my characters emotionally as possible to portray them well.

  16. What you wrote resonates for me. Unfortunately, many readers of our books tend to ask “Did that really happen to you?” the answer being “no”, when they could have asked: “Is that how you felt about what did happen to you?”, the answer to that being “yes.”

  17. I don’t mind when an author writes themselves into a story even if it’s obvious they’ve done so. What bugs me is when they absolutely deny it. This prompted me to re-examine my characters to see where I have sneaked into my own story. One beta reader told me a particular character was all me. I laughed because it wasn’t intentional. Now the question is, do I leave the character this way or not?

    • thomas h cullen says

      Were you imagining the character as you, when writing them? Even if subconsciously your writing of them was informed by you, an answer of no to this question means you certainly need not re-write them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If the character works in the book, why not leave it? And it is true that authors are often completely unaware, on a conscious level, of how much of themselves they’re writing into their characters.

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