We all carry baggage. Some of us drag a steamer truck full of difficult experiences behind us. Others travel with a tiny overnight bag of disappointments over their shoulder. It’s still baggage.
We bring our personal baggage with us to the page. The more I write, the more I am seeing themes running through my work that I can only assume are items in my invisible suitcase. My characters tend to have complicated relationships with their mothers, they have difficult relationships with their bodies, and they struggle to hold themselves together. I’ve also noticed themes in my critique partners’ work that echo their personal struggles. One friend worked through her recent divorce in the early drafts of her novel. Another has made light of his frustrations around off and on employment in one of his novels.
The old adage of ‘write what you know’ definitely applies here and needs to be taken with care. Writing is a great way to exorcise our demons. That does not necessarily make for excellent fiction. It may not even make for very good memoir. The baggage that we carry can inform our writing and lend a certain verisimilitude but it can wreck a good story. I learned this lesson from the early drafts of my Lara WIP. The story revolves around the main characters experiences around being treated for cancer. I wrote the first draft in 2005, which was way too soon after my own cancer experience. The story was overshadowed by me working through my own experience. I eventually put the manuscript away after three more drafts and picked up again earlier this year. Wow, what a difference a few years make. The current drafts are about the characters, not me. The reader can see Lara’s issues now because my baggage got left at the door.