Got Navel?


How many times am I allowed to moan about this book???

Lots, right? I knew I could count on you. Because it’s “sucking the life out of me.”

That is a phrase a friend of mine uses all the time. And I’ve created a character based on her. Too much, in fact, and that’s part of what’s got me so rattled here.

So I ask you: How much do you pull from the real world in your writing? Does privacy and human decency keep you from stealing people’s looks, mannerisms, speech, and actions?

Apparently, I have no such qualms. Everything is up for grabs as long as I can change the names. Of course, I’ve pissed people off by doing that. There’s a reason Thomas Wolfe wrote You Can’t Go Home Again. Because after he’d looked maybe too homeward in Look Homeward, Angel, no one would let him back in the door.

On the one hand, I think us navel gazers get a bad rap. navel gazingYes, we can be self-absorbed and even downright offensive in our depictions of the people and places around us (the truth hurts, no?). Yet even though I dream of living in other cities, traveling to other countries, and meeting people from all walks of life, I find it hard to write beyond my own yard. Even my own house. Because that’s where life resides.

On the other hand, there’s that pesky problem of stifled creativity. How much do you take out from what’s real? How much do you put in? How much is story-worthy anyway?

Today, I let the character tell me. I was finally able to step away from the persona I thought she possessed, and let her do something totally out of sync with what my real friend would do. She came up with a strange thought, spoke it out loud, other characters reacted in a stunned but believable way, and I sat back and said, “Huh. That was cool.”

Whew! Big sigh of relief. Because she’s starting to push me around now, and tell me that she’ll take over from here on, thank you very much. And I couldn’t be happier to let her.

Thomas Wolfe understood the easy lure of the familiar, but also the delicate maneuver of turning reality into story. And he was willing to deal with the aftermath. (In fact, when he later wrote Of Time And the River, many of those people who were mad about Look Homeward, Angel were ticked off again—but this time because he left them out of the book.)

So if you’re at all into writing about real life, I say go ahead and steal from your world. It’s your world, after all. It’s your own damn navel too. And when you’re ready, hopefully your imagination will take those ideas and spin them out into something bigger.

And, huh. Wouldn’t that be cool?



3 thoughts on “Got Navel?”

  1. I just spent 90 minutes at Starbucks mulling over the same problem. So glad you put it into words for me. Great article.

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