Over the weekend while cleaning out our garage I injured my wrist and will be in a brace for the next week. Naturally, I’m right handed and it’s my right wrist in a brace. It’s amazing how much you use your dominant hand for up until you injure it or its supporting joint. Of course like many writers, while chicken-pecking this post out, there is a tiny part of my brain filing the information gained from this away for the next time I need to injure a character or otherwise impede their ability to use their limbs.
There is however, something to be said for writing from experience. Not merely writing from what we know, but from our perspective. Some of you may know that I have severe anxiety. To date I have only drawn on that particular experience with one (currently shelved) fiction project. Part of the reason that project was put aside was that I had only recently learned about my disorder and didn’t feel as though I had the knowledge or the right to write a character like that.
The irony in that idea isn’t lost on me. I write primarily in the fantasy genre, and yet aside from whatever magic created by words on the page I have none of my own. That has never stopped me before. In my forays into science fiction, I am happy to rely on research, and the same applies when checking historical data. Yet when it came down to something I live with everyday, my experience felt invalid.
The reasons behind that could be numerous. Perhaps its partially due to the heavy stigma still surrounding mental health. Perhaps it was due to the relative newness at the time of finally having a name for the constant buzz of worry-energy-fear always in my thoughts. Perhaps it was a lot of things. Regardless of what it was, that project sat untouched for more than two years.
That is, until Sunday morning, while trying to puzzle out how to get sugar from the bowl to my coffee cup with my very non-dominant left hand. It occurred to me that this was a temporary obstacle in my story. I will be back to the regular use of my right hand in a few days. Perhaps with a marginal amount of skill in my left, but returned all the same. I’m lucky in that.
There are however, others who will not have such luck. Their injuries may be permanent, and they may be learning to use one hand on a permanent basis. And the challenges they face also change with their unique situations. The same can be said for all of us, whether we face a mental health struggle, or a disadvantage because of social or economic factors.
Writing from experience isn’t merely writing a character who would make the same choices we would, it’s also writing about the same struggles and obstacles we face. Writers have a unique way of casting light on places that are often times left in shadow, and bringing empathy out of our readers.
If there is one thing I do know for certain, it is that if one person thinks it, another does as well. And I certainly know it would have been nice to have a name for my anxiety much sooner than I did. If I can bring a little light to someone else by writing from my experience, then it’s time to do so. Once I’m out of the brace, I’ll be dusting off that project.
Are there any projects you’ve written from your experience?