We’ve all heard, “Write what you know.” Most of us have also heard that this is crap on a cracker. Because really, who knows what it’s like to be a Jesus figure with a princess twin sister in a galaxy, far, far, away? Or a queen that was born shooting ice from her fingertips?
What I’ve found out about my own writing is more disturbing than writing what I know. I write who I am.
If someone had told me that writing who I am is how I would access my ability to write quality scripts I would have smiled, nodded, and hoped it didn’t look like I thought they were stupid. Writing who I am is too painful, too limiting, I would have said. And I would have been right. Sort of.
It’s important to write who I am, but through characters without my face or history. I have told the emotional story of my history with race relations in the 1990s through an ex-slave lawman in the 1870s. Of being hurt by relationships through a fat white woman who’s had sex with more men than I’ve kissed, and my struggles with fitting into society through a serial killer’s love for a model with an ugly face. Their emotional truths are all part of who I am, but I don’t know any of them.
I think I will always be a little scared of writing who I really am. Even now too many of my first drafts consist of me giving a stiff arm to my emotions. They’re there at the edges, smooth, shiny, but not quite real. Only when I rewrite, holding the script to my emotional soul like a babe on a teat, does the script seem to connect with my readers.
Writing it down feels like it makes it real. But it already is real. All those hurt, rough places, and the mean, unforgiving places, share a part of me with the awesome joy I hope to exist in most of the time.
Be brave, tell me who you are. Be an artist, tell me through a world you’ve never known.