Should we write about ourselves? How important are a writer’s direct personal experiences to their work?
Well in one sense of course, they are of towering importance, everything we write must necessarily be coloured by who we are – our culture, our memories, the views we have formed.
But that, I would suggest, is slightly different from the kind of autobiographical writing I’m talking about here. How many of us lift an incident from our daily lives, give it a brush down and a lick of paint, and call it a story, or a scene in a novel?
That kind of autobiographical writing splits opinion among writers.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to win a UK short story award called the Bridport Prize and the judge that year was the esteemed writer Kate Atkinson, author of Behind the Scenes at the Museum among other fine works.
Among the comments I remember her making during a very civilised dinner we enjoyed in Bridport town hall was a fairly firm condemnation of writing which is too straightforwardly autobiographical. I paraphrase here – but the gist of her comments was that short stories are a good place for a writer to practice their craft and, if they must write chunks of autobiography, then here in these practice stories is the place to get it out of their system.
The author’s own life, suggested Kate, is of more interest to the author than it is to anyone else – we are likely to give it undue importance – and as a result to write things which are interesting to us, rather than interesting to the reader.
It’s an important and valid point I think, and one which I have carried with me.