Our writing is not a window into our soul

Writing is artistic. It requires inspiration, drive, and the courage to use one’s voice. All of that is true! But it’s also edited to connect with the reader more than it is about revealing its author’s deepest darkest secrets. Anything that a writer reveals about themselves in their work is a snapshot of that moment in time and may not reflect their current state.

Non-fiction, essays, and op-eds are much more opaque than readers want to believe: that is by design. We take an idea and run with it, creating something people will relate to or draw inspiration from themselves. Non-fiction is not necessarily 100% bitter-cold truth or even a truth that the writer themselves fully believes.

An acquaintance bought a copy of my book. It’s a memoir but by the time I had the final prints in my hand, any shyness about its contents was long gone. A few weeks later, he made a big show of telling me how he finished reading, how well-written he thought it was, and most creepily: how he felt he knew me better because of it. The memory of his cocked eyebrow and self-assurance that he’d figured me out still makes my skin crawl.

A flame I dated for a few months would frequently check my website. I found it endearing. As time went on, though, I noticed him re-reading certain pieces: he’d always check the latest one and then return to a few specific essays and my “about” page. If he thought he was gaining insight into me this way, it’s a mistake on his part and explains some things about why we didn’t work out.

Fiction, however, can be an entirely different story (pun intended). This is where a writer can explore and change events in their lives, bring people together or tear them apart, or create a world for themselves and others. There is a good chance that if you are friends with a writer who creates fiction that someone, somewhere in their work will resemble you or something you did in some way. Sometimes it is deliberate and sometimes it’s not.

That’s also not always the case either. Some writers create entire worlds out of thin air just because they can and are inspired to. It is not all the same across the board.

A writer and their work are separate entities. Of course, there is some overlap, especially in non-fiction. But just like an actor portrays a character, even if they identify with them, a writer creates something separate from themselves based on commonalities between their experiences and what they present their audience.

Writers are human, and while we are a weird bunch, we still want to connect with others the way everyone else does. Do not assume our work is a shortcut into that process. Please do enjoy our work, tell us about it, and share it with others, but remember that we are more than what we do, too.

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