The art of the personal


It is perhaps inevitable that most artists use their personal lives at some point to fuel their work.  Short stories, novels, songs, paintings, even symphonies — you can find examples of autobiographical content throughout history.

Some artists are more open (blatant?) about it than others.  Think of Picasso and his succession of mistresses/wives, or Norman Mailer and his fiction.  Hemingway, Woolf, Eggers: enthusiastic practitioners of the roman à clef.  David Hockney and his lovers. Tchaikovsky and his Pathétique.  Beethoven and his Pastoral.

So here's an exercise I thought of the other day that might be interesting to a fiction writer (which I am not): notice one small aspect of your personality, some quirk maybe that might be an interesting observation about a character.

Write a paragraph or two describing/showing that quirk about that fictional character who is actually you.  Feel free to not be completely accurate, but be honest, and make it a positive take on the quirk.

Now, write a second piece about a character who is the opposite of that. Get inside the head of someone who feels the opposite of you on living in an older home, or doing yard work, or being stuck in traffic. Be equally positive about their point of view.

(If you're a true writer, i.e., a masochist, go back and rewrite your first bit to give it a negative slant.  You know you want to.)

As our own Georg Christoph Lichtenberg says, "To do the opposite is also a form of imitation."