Sometimes gratitude is not just for those wonderful things and people who come our way. Sometimes gratitude results from swallowing a bitter pill. I’m talking about being grateful for mistakes, failures, and bad decisions. I like to believe that these foibles allow us to grow, change, develop empathy, and become better people.
This is also true of characters we create in fiction and real people we write about in nonfiction. The adage “write what you know,” comes into mind. Stephen King says it best in his book, On Writing - A Memoir of the Craft:
“You undoubtedly have your own thoughts, interests, and concerns, and they have arisen, as mine have, from your experiences and adventures as a human being… and you should use them in your work.”
Think about Eric Blair, aka George Orwell, as he wrote about his chosen life in penury in his memoir, Down and Out in Paris and London; and how his experiences led to writing essays and novels (Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Animal Farm) about social injustice.
Novelist Terry McMillan has written about her life experiences, and romances pleasant and heartbreaking, in two novels, Waiting to Exhale and How Stella Got Her Groove Back.
Friend and fellow writer Jenny Milchman’s first thriller, Cover of Snow, came about after a frightening experience that happened to her when she was eight years old. The incident gives me chills when I think about it. Her babysitter had told her that he’d planned to kill himself that night when he returned home and that she shouldn't tell anyone. Luckily, she told her parents and they informed the boy’s mother who went into his room and found him with an open bottle of pills. This incident was the foundation for her debut novel many years later.
I wish I could turn back the clock and erase some of my mistakes, but I am grateful they happened because they made me a stronger person. I use some of those experiences to bring depth to my writing. I have yet to find the courage to lay my worst moments down in a novel, even though a few unpleasant and fearful episodes have found their way into my Kate Caraway mysteries.