Lay It Bare – Writing and Truth

“Turn my sorrow into treasured gold.” Adele

One question that people often ask about creative writing is whether it’s okay to write about your own life and how do you do this without revealing personal information about yourself and your family. My advice is to write the truth.


Writing from your heart and about your true experiences is what creative writing is all about. Writing is all about expression and art feels much more powerful when it comes from a genuine place. That’s not to say that you have to always write about yourself and your life or that people even have to be aware that it’s about you at all. People will often accuse writers of creating protagonists that are essentially the writer in an idealised form. This isn’t exactly accurate. All the characters come from the writer, either from their life, or from their observations of life. It could even be from the films, books, people they’ve met or music that they’ve experienced. Anything could have inspired the writer.

Sometimes, as a writer, you may have a day where you will see something happening in the world or you will experience something that stirs a lot of emotion for you. It might be the news. It might be an argument with someone. It might be seeing someone who is struggling with something in their life. Let that inspire you and feed into your stories. If you feel really strongly about something, then write about it. You may never use what you have written but being truthful can be really powerful in creative writing.

Creative writing is meant to feel authentic to you as a human being and your reader will pick up on that. In fiction, it’s not always obvious if the writer is talking about their own experiences. For example, Tolkien was clearly talking about war and power in Lord of the Rings and will undoubtedly have been influenced by his real life experiences of World War I.  We don’t know, though, how much of what his characters say about war is what he believed or is just part of his representation of the characters and the story. It’s easy to speculate what parts are Tolkien’s experiences but we don’t know because he’s put it into the fiction. It’s so tied up into his writing that it’s woven into the entire fabric of his stories. Tolkien was also an avid linguist and loved inventing languages and studying languages. The novels also represent that side of him. I don’t believe that you can ever separate the writer from the work they produce. Who the writer is determines what writing is produced and a writer is a complex individual with many different experiences and inspirations.


When you feel really strongly about something, that is the time to write. Don’t be afraid of writing the wrong thing or worry about how good or bad it is. You can judge it later. If it’s about a real person and you don’t want to embarrass the person, you probably should either ask permission, obscure the details and person’s identity or should just conceal it in fiction. Similarly,  you don’t have to put it all word for word into your fiction, you can use parts of the experience for one character and parts for another. There are no rules about how you do it but do be careful that you don’t defame or embarrass someone if you are writing directly about them. Personally, I don’t tend to write about people who I know specifically but instead notice behaviours, traits or the distinct life events and use them to inspire my fiction. My writing is more of a mish-mash of many different inspirations used to create the stories that I want to tell but this can be different for every writer.

So be you when you write. Write what feels true for you. Even in fiction, don’t be afraid to write what you believe. That’s not to say that you need to barrage your readers with constant political opinions. I’m not really talking about that sort of truth. Often being excessively political in writing stories can be very obvious. If it overshadows the story that you are trying to tell it may put your readers off because they may feel like you are preaching too much. Politically focussed stories can work if done well, such as in The Handmaid’s Tale but the story is a story about the issue and not another story being dominated by a different issue so the effect is slightly different. Share those real human truths deep in your heart that stir you, even if they are uncomfortable but still remember that you are writing a story not a political speech and above all, enjoy the process.

Related Links

Tolkien and War –

Tolkien vs The Third Reich –

George R.R.Martin real influences –

Authors on Real World Influences –

Scroll down to the lesson transcript for the text –


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