The Difficulties of Autobiography in Fiction

Some parts of my new story “Sweat” are autobiographical. I find those are the hardest parts to write. I’ve tried to understand why.

Most, if not all, writers draw from their personal experiences in their work. I often find it difficult to do. I based one scene in “Sweat” on an actual conversation I had. This has become a difficult challenge for me, and I have thought about why these autobiographical elements of my stories are so hard for me.

I have identified three barriers when I have trouble when I try to incorporate events from my life into my fiction work.

1. Many events were important in both life and the lives of others. I don’t want to trivialize these events in my fiction. This is especially a concern with other people’s involvement.

  • 2. Many events I want to use were unpleasant for me. When I want to incorporate them, it revives the feelings I had at the time. It is painful to revisit these old wounds and bad memories. Although these feelings can provide fodder for the story, they can also put me off writing.

3. Many events involved conflict with other people. Although I have managed to exclude them from my current life, these people are still around. I fear that if I use those events as the basis for my fiction, they will reopen the old conflict.

I have developed a couple of strategies to deal with these barriers.

1. I try to create a distance between my experience and myself. The main technique I’ve used is to transpose the events to a different situation. This allows me to change the specifics of the event and the nature of the people involved.

2. I try to draw on emotions from the event and envision other situations that can bring out similar emotions.

I used both of these strategies in my film “Line of Taxis”. They did help, but there were several periods on that film where I ran into the same barriers. I’ve used both approaches in my story “Sweat”.

I suppose that in the end, it is just a matter of “getting over it”. None the less, I would like to find other techniques to help me overcome these barriers. I would gratefully accept any advice.

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