Writing my life

“Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works”

-Virginia Woolf

This quote struck me this morning, and hits on something I’ve believed for a long time. As a writer, I’m often asked if a novel is autobiographical. It’s an annoying question at times, but I try my best to explain.

A novel is fiction (don’t ever query an agent or agent with these words: “my fictional novel”). The plot, characters, dialogue, conflicts, and climax are all made up by the writer. To a point.

Any writer who says a novel doesn’t have any elements of autobiography is lying. It all comes from within us, from our experiences, from our view of stories we’ve heard and things we’ve observed. Dialogue often comes from “real” conversations – or at least the best dialogue usually does.

As I work on the second draft of my current novel, I know there are elements of conversation from my life with my husband since the main characters are a husband and wife team who had to beat insurmountable odds to come together as partners. The matriarch of the story comes from a composite of mothers I’ve known over the years. Anyone who knew her, will certainly recognize parts of my own mother in Gladdy Stokley. My childhood loneliness is revealed in one of the characters, but my career as a journalist and environmentalist comes across in both main characters. The lack of self-esteem in the best friend’s choice in men, along with her professional success as a psychologist, comes from meeting so many women over the years suffering from the same dichotomous lifestyle.

Autobiography? No. Autobiographical? Can’t quite help it.

It’s what I know, and that’s what I write. Virginia, you’re right. It’s written large in my work every single time


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