Life, finding its way into writing

Last night lnhammer, windrose, and I were talking about how of course recent life events will find their way into our writing, and also about how this isn’t necessarily something that will happen right away.

I find for me, it can take a very long time for life to find its way into fiction. I often don’t write about things immediately after; I often can’t write about the immediately after. They need time to (as I think lnhammer put it) “seep down to the groundwater level.” They need time to transform into something else, at which point they often don’t get written about directly, but indirectly.

This can take a very long time for me–five years or more isn’t at all unusual. Sometimes a lot more–it took almost 15 years to find the short story in a move I had a hard time with back in college. I wrote an essay about it much closer to the events–but that was more direct and far less interesting, and I never did anything with it.

Often I don’t even realize what I’m doing until after the fact. Like the time I read a journal entry–about being robbed at knifepoint–years after the fact, and realized I’d used all that imagery in a story I’d sold, without at the time making the link.

Contrarywise, sometimes life events can transform a story already in progress–sometimes the story even seems to be waiting for them. A story I hope to get back to revising soon, started long before September 11, already had imagery of buildings coming down, but both how that imagery resonated and how I wrote it were altered afterwards.

How does life find its way into stories for the rest of you? Does it do it directly or indirectly? And when it does, does it do so quickly, over the space of many years, or somewhere in between?

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