There’s a well-known adage that you should write what you know, and I must admit, I find it easier in many ways to do this than write about something I have little experience or knowledge of. However, where it becomes difficult is where you want the story to deviate from what actually happened but can’t as it feels in some way wrong, as you feel as if you have to stay as close to the truth as possible.
I’m struggling with this at the moment as I’m writing a novel based on a past relationship. In my mind’s eye I see the man I’m writing about, and yet I know I need to develop the character somewhat, perhaps turning him into something he wasn’t in reality. I need to get to know him in a way I never did and I really find this a challenge, perhaps because of the complicated feelings I had towards him.
Writing what you know can also be difficult when writing about a trauma. I recently wrote a short memoir based on something which happened to me when I was a teenager. I realised when writing it that it had affected me so profoundly that in order to protect myself, I’d put up a kind of emotional barrier and it took me a while to get close enough to the MC to be able to produce a meaningful story. There was initially too much psychic distance, and also as the event in question had taken place so many years before, the memories I had were sketchy at best so I had no choice but to invent some. I’d be interested to know how others approach memoir writing.