Wordy Wednesday: Write Yourself, But Different

I’m having a kind of bad day. It’s not even that bad, it’s just that things have been so good lately that anything at all negative happening feels like a punch to the gut. Primarily: I went in to donate blood for the first time today and they rejected me.

This might not seem like a big deal, except that I’ve never weighed enough to donate blood before, but due to my love of Christmas cookies this holiday season, I finally hit a hundred pounds, so after years and years of waiting, I signed up to donate at the university’s next blood battle. I spent the past few weeks trying to keep my weight up, taking iron supplements, staying hydrated, etc.

Today I went in, read over all the warnings and rules, waited a half hour, then finally got my interview to make sure I was eligible. And the lady rejected me. Because apparently, according to the American Red Cross, I HAVE CANCER.

Please note: I do not have cancer. Right now I don’t even have pre-cancer. But because I’ve had dysplastic moles removed in the past few months (the most recent surgery being a couple weeks ago), the lady interviewing me decided that I was so cancer-ridden I couldn’t donate. Try again in a few months. You know, as long as I haven’t died between now and then.

Nothing against the American Red Cross. I get it. You don’t want me sending Melanoma-laden blood to some poor, unsuspecting soul. But I don’t have Melanoma. I’ve never had Melanoma. THE ENTIRE POINT OF HAVING THOSE MOLES REMOVED WAS SO THAT I WOULD NOT GET MELANOMA.

I thanked the lady for her time (the full thirty seconds it took for her to reject me), walked outside, called my mom, and promptly burst into tears.

So yeah. That’s how my day’s been going.

Anyway, though, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is a writing process post.

I used to be really careful about making sure the protagonists of my stories were super different from me. They’d have different interests, personalities; they’d go through situations vaguely similar to ones I’d experienced, but still different enough that no one could claim they were at all autobiographical.

Then I started taking creative writing classes, and started needing to produce a billion and one short stories a semester, and I ran out of stuff that Wasn’t Me to write about. Pieces of me crept into my characters and plots more and more, until finally last semester I gave up and started writing basically literally about my life: A girl and her friends study abroad over a summer at Magdalen College, Oxford; a girl longs to move to Europe; a girl has to say goodbye to her high school theatre company. And this semester it’s gotten even worse: a girl deals with (of all things) the potential of getting Melanoma and dying; a girl is depressed and doesn’t know how to handle it or get better*.

What all this has taught me is that it’s much easier to write about yourself than people who are vastly different from you, and the stories that have significant elements of yourself in them (at least for me) generally turn out better, because they’re personal. Theatre was my life in high school, and I couldn’t imagine my life without it, so graduating was scary and difficult. I’m terrified of getting cancer, but that’s something I don’t like to focus on; writing that story gave me an outlet for my fears in the midst of several surgeries on my arm to remove moles that had become dysplastic out of nowhere.

But at the same time, where I started out writing these stories with the goal of writing pieces of myself, I realized as I went that these characters were also, still, vastly different from me. Their own people with their own problems and histories and futures. The girl in the theatre story has no idea what to do with the rest of her life, when her entire life up until this point has been theatre. (I did have a pretty solid idea of what I’d be doing after high school. Because while theatre defined so much of me, writing did just as much.) The girl in the cancer story is half-Mexican (I’m supes Caucasian) and dreams of going to Julliard for violin (I tried violin once; pretty sure half of Michigan is still recovering).

These stories are better for how they’re different from my life. They let me explore these other identities, helped me see the world beyond myself, and in turn led to a much more interesting portfolio.

All this to say: Write yourself, but different. You learn, and your stories benefit, from both the parts that reflect you and the parts that open a window into other people’s lives.

After all, we are defined by both the parts that are the same as everyone else and the parts that are different. And we–and our characters–deserve to have both.

Thanks for reading!

~Julia

*For the record: I’m fine. I was in a pretty, you know, not-so-nice place this time last year. But I’m fine now.

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8 thoughts on “Wordy Wednesday: Write Yourself, But Different

  1. Awww sorry your day hasn’t been good. This week has been a bit rough for me, too. I hope it gets better for both of us! Also, nice post on characters. I’ve started letting myself use my own experiences in characters more lately, too. It’s kind of interesting, writing about yourself but also not yourself at all.

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  2. HELLO JULIA BYERS.

    Sorry about the blood thing. I’ve donated a good few times, but really, a LOT of people wouldn’t be able to. They’re SUPER strict. I did get kicked out once for low blood pressure, so that’s cool.

    And thanks for this post <3. My writing skill arc on this went the other way, from having the characters BE ME to having them operate out of my dear writerly heart while also being separate people, but it's important for everyone to understand where that balance is. =)

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    • TAGGING SUCCESS.

      I get why they’re so strict and I totally understand them rejecting me. That just wasn’t a reason I was expecting, you know? (But also: Good on you for donating. You are my hero.)

      That’s so interesting, how we’ve had such opposite processes to end up in the same place.

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  3. I’m sorry to hear about the blood drive, I have for years now had the low iron problem that gets me rejected and I have cried over rejection more than I would like to admit. You deserve a cookie and a hug just for trying to donate, so many people do not for fear or what ever but you tried and that is so much of the battle. I am so proud of you and so sorry that you did not get what you wanted. I have been in a very similar place and it’s hard but the actions that you take moving forward will show a lot about your character.
    You are amazing and I would take your blood if I regulated the laws but sadly I do not.

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  4. I’m sorry you’ve been having a rough day, but hopefully tomorrow is better, right?

    YES YES YES. I think that all stories need to have some part of you because that’s what makes stories realistic and full of accurate emotions. At the same time, though, some level of different helps to make the story more interesting and can make you even be a bit more honest with your writing since it’s not exactly about you.

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