Muse’s thoughts: if it hurts you, then write about it
The late, rough-and-tumble author Harry Crews once said in an interview, “I don’t think it takes much perception, or very keen sensibilities, to see that it takes great courage—I know it’s me saying this and what it makes me sound like, but I don’t care—it takes great courage to look where you have to look, which is in yourself, in your experience, in your relationship with fellow beings, your relationship to the earth, to the spirit or to the first cause, or whatever—to look at them and make something of them. Writers spend all their time preoccupied with just the things that their fellow men and women spend their time trying to avoid thinking about.”
I agree. In some ways, this comment answers the question: where do you get your ideas. My answer is “from what bothers me.” Many authors feel the same way. They write about the issues they’re trying to cope with. Sometimes personal experience is involved and needs to be sorted out; or the issue is something on the national stage the author thinks is unfair.
I’m reading a novel about an investigative reporter whose boss sent her to a small town to investigate a crime very similar to one she experienced herself. She knows her boss understood that in getting to the bottom of what happened and why, she will come to better understand what happened to her. This is one reason many of us write about what we write about.
I wrote The Sun Singer to better understand self doubt, Sarabande because I disliked assaults on women, my two conjure woman novels because I needed to come to terms with the Florida of my youth, At Sea to better understand my tour of duty aboard an aircraft carrier, and Mountain Song to sort out why the young woman I planned to marry ran away.
I don’t think these rationale make writers vain because it (the writing) isn’t a bunch of words about us. Those words tell stories with psychic links to what we’ve experienced or wondered about. I don’t know if Crews is right when he says that others avoid thinking about such things. I tend to doubt it. But writers approach such things head on and try to make compelling stories out of their own trials and tribulations.