Skip to content

Writing to Learn About You

18 November, 2015


The Guardian recently ran an intervew with one of my favourite writers, Marilynne Robinson. The question and answer that I found most illuminating suggests why we write.

Q:  The trilogy made up by Gilead, Home and Lila has had immense success. But what has it meant for you?

Her answer:

There’s a way in which, nonfiction or fiction, you learn your own mind, you find out what matters to you, what the questions are for you . . . .

And with fiction, you can put the problem out in front of yourself in a three-dimensional way, and work through it, and that’s very, very interesting.

Why do I like her response?

It’s usual for writers to focus on their readers, real or imagined.  But it’s worth remembering that through our writing,  we also have the opportunity to learn something about ourselves.

We generally know this when we write nonfiction,  especially when our topic clearly links to our personal experiences and beliefs.

But what about fiction? Reflecting on some of my work, I realise fiction also provides a way to know  and understand myself.  I discover personal insights from the choices I make in telling a story—its setting, the issues that drive the story, and the characters I develop, especially in terms of how they act and why.

Does your fiction help you understand ‘what matters to you, what the questions are for you?



8 Comments leave one →
  1. 22 November, 2015 10:32 pm

    I certainly relate to Marilynne’s response as to why we write. When I write – or get the time and the energy to write, whether fiction or non-fiction, or simply posting up in forums and blogs – I can feel great satisfaction. Which I guess is a sort of ‘learning my own mind’ – AND also writing ‘to know and understand me’.

    In writing I aim to try and mentally disentangle the things that upset, annoy and concern me, so that hopefully they don’t bug me quite so much. Yes, I’m ‘putting the problem/s out in front of myself’, admitted to it/them (well, in writing if not often in conversation – I’m often too embarrassed to talk to others about certain hang-ups of mine). I’m far more a loner/dreamer/writer than a gregarious speaker.

    I’m not saying that, by writing, all my problems and hang-ups miraculously disappear (or, they don’t in the outside ‘real/waking world’!). But writing – in whatever form – can give me some satisfaction in laying out my concerns, and trying to ‘work through these’ by imagining alternatives or solutions to these.

    And also, let’s face it, I’m wanting a huge break from that scary annoying bewildering often-alienating outside world, by allowing myself to invent – and wallow in! – a more-idealized (‘three-dimensional’) alternative-present world and culture and society.

    And – OK – I’ll also admit that, by writing and posting this online, there IS that chance that I might ‘get an audiance’…..

    Conclusively – I’m afraid this is why my posts tend to get so long!


    • 30 November, 2015 2:22 pm

      A few times, I’ve written a very one-sided fictional account, creating a main character who was a thinly veiled version of a real person I was having trouble dealing with at the time. Although this focus makes a story too lop-sided and unsatisfactory as fiction, I found it therapeutic to have my bete noire defeated or unmasked at the end. Interestingly, writing such a story often made it easier to deal with the real person later.


      • 30 November, 2015 6:47 pm

        That’s great if one’s ‘bete noires’ can be eased, just by some fictional writing! I certainly can enjoy doing the writing at the time (safely up in my own little cacoon…..) – and posting this up too!
        But, once back in the outside world, it can vary as to whether this makes it any easier to deal with my particular bugbears, and to whether I come away from these feeling any less angsty.

        I have to content myself with simply trying to do some more writing on these, or, if too tired (too often!) just to use my head to go into my alternative world.


        • 30 November, 2015 9:46 pm

          I used to write haiku as a way of quickly and easily capturing something about my life each day, it seemed more doable than other forms of writing.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. 19 November, 2015 12:04 am

    I think words can be pictures, and lovely songs, and bodacious scents, and private flavors, and early morning caresses that wake each part of you, one at a time. I know some of those words, and, from time to time, I write a few of them….

    Liked by 1 person

    • 30 November, 2015 6:10 pm

      Thanks Rick! I’ve now learned a new word – bodacious.


      • 1 December, 2015 5:02 am

        …and thanks to you, Catbar, your initial comment above helped to broaden my horizon about why writers write — I guess my motivation is mostly about words and language, I love to use “just the right word” to mean just exactly what I want to mean


        • 2 December, 2015 6:29 pm

          That’s good to hear that I’ve helped you ‘broaden your horizon’! Yes, I too love to hunt down and use ‘just the right word’: just ONE word that sums up what I’m trying to say.


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: