Mistake 18: Playing Out Your Personal Demons on the Page

70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer, from The Writer’s Digest Writing Kit

Why this is a mistake: Many psychologists and counselors advise
their patients to keep a journal. To record their day-to-day activities
and the way they feel about what happens. To delve into their life and their past and record events and their feelings about those events.

Unfortunately, too many people consider this to be a novel. They write a story about themselves and then think the rest of the world will be fascinated. The problem with this is that everyone has his own story. Why would he want to read about someone else’s story?

The other problem with writing your story is that you are fictionalizing fact. You are in essence writing what I call the fictional memoir. If your memoir is so important, then write it as memoir. If it needs to be fictionalized, then it probably isn’t that important to start with.

Another problems with fictionalizing your memoir is that when you get editorial feedback you will resist changing anything, using the infamous comment of “but that’s not what happened.” And the editor will say: “But it’s a novel, so you can change anything you want.” And you will reply: “But that’s not what happened.” And around and around it will go.

The solution:
If you have to do the personal demon novel, write it fast, get it out of your system, and unless it superlatively written, throw it in a drawer and move on and write a book that is outward oriented.

Once more, this is a case of thinking about the reader and not the writer. Your goal as the author is to entertain and inform the reader, not to burden the reader with the trials and tribulations of your life. Frankly—and this is one of the things that agents and editors have to bite their tongues to keep from saying during their one-on-one sessions during conferences—most people’s life stories are not interesting enough to fill out a novel.

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