Know Thyself: The Autobiographical Nature of Writing

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Someone once said that all writing is autobiographical. I tend to agree with this. When we write, in any field, what else do we have to go on but our own knowledge and experience of the world? What else can you put into your writing other than yourself? No matter how hard you try to keep it remote from your own experience, all you are ever doing is writing about yourself. It’s inescapable.

This might seem negative and limiting but, looked at in the right way, it is actually liberating. Writing is often seen as therapeutic because it makes us more aware of feelings and thoughts that were buried or half buried in the sub conscious. If you dig hard enough you will get to this layer. Greater self-awareness can only be a positive thing in your life as it leads to a better understanding of your wants and needs. It helps us to see where we are going wrong and puts us on the road to a happier, more full life. The ancient Greeks knew this. One of their favourite sayings was, simply, ‘know thyself’.

An awareness of the autobiographical nature of writing leads us to an appreciation of how important it is for writers to seek out new experiences and gain fresh knowledge and understanding. The more experience you have the better for your writing. This doesn’t necessarily mean travelling around the globe or joining the French Foreign Legion. One of the things that sets a writer apart from the rest of society is a greater capacity for thought and feeling and a heightened sensitivity to the world so that he/she will get more out of an experience than a ‘normal’ person would. This is why Franz Kafka was able to write such great literature – the richness of his inner life allowed it. And there are many other writers that fall into this category. By inner life I mean thoughts, feelings but also, of course, imagination. Imagination is another power that is uniquely yours. It is a treasure trove for any writer or any person who wants to live a fuller life. Of course, there are also writers who have lived apparently full lives – men of action such as Ernest Hemingway, and this also contributes to great writing. The lesson is never to give up the quest for fresh knowledge and new experiences and become a more powerful writer through greater self-awareness. Self-awareness will give your writing more layers and depth. It gives you more command over what you are writing and this can only be a good thing. So, if you are writing just for therapy or you are aiming for something more literary or both, don’t be afraid of what you learn about yourself. Make it work for you both in your life and in your writing.

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