She writes what she knows. She writes what is real.

Jane Austen. L.M. Montgomery. T.S. Reiger.

Seeing my own name with two of my favorite authors, whose stories have gripped my heart since childhood, is strange. Even laughable. However, everything I have been reading this week, watching, and reflecting on in my own writing requires that I put myself next to them. Their works have molded me into the reader and the writer I am with one particular common practice:

We write real stories. We write what we know. The events in our lives breathe life into our pens. 

I watched Anne of Green Gables and Anne of Avonlea this week because those two movies are ones that I know so well that they can play in the background and I can recite the scenes if necessary (something I am increasingly fond of as a new mother with no attention span to watch something new). I have always identified with Anne Shirley. Oddly enough, I have followed her life path. I was a teacher, who would add author as an afterthought when people asked what I did for a living. And what am I (seriously) writing? A novel based on my relationship with my dad before his passing in 2009.

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Gilbert Blythe: Well, if you want my opinion, Miss Shirley. I’d write about places I knew something of… write a real story about the people you care about.

Anne struggles to make it as writer because she holds these lofty ideals about writing (and life’s purpose, relationships, and people) that do not translate because they aren’t real. There is no substance to her ideals and her fiction. The confrontation (seen in the picture to the right) with Gilbert Blythe occurs when he critiques her latest flop. And he tells her to write a “real” story about what she knows.

She takes his advice and crafts a book of vignettes about the people, places, and events in the small town she grew up in and finds success in the literary world. While I focused on Anne, but L.M. Montgomery used quite a bit of her own experiences to inform Anne as a character. I’ll let you do the research there.

Jane Austen is really no different. Like most white, middle-class women, I have a fondness for all things Jane Austen.I stumbled across an article from Ms. Magazine’s blog and there was one poignant line, slapping me in the face with the same lesson from Anne Shirley and my own writings:

Some scoff at Austen’s tales that tend to focus more on character development and every-day happenings than epic drama, but it is this very lens that makes her work so engaging. “There are people who say that nothing happens in Jane Austen,” actor Nikki Massoud, 26, says. “And you could make that argument, but nothing happens in Jane Austen in the way that nothing happens in real life. Everything happens within the nothing.” Austen wrote what she knew—the villages, communities and economic realities—of her own life, and it is this incisive view that allows her writing to resonate down the centuries.

If you know anything about Jane Austen, you can see the parallels of her own life and the characters that she crafted with the pages of classics like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and others. Or you can watch Becoming Jane and get the abridged version. Her stories resonate with her own life circumstance with a penned happy ending that only her characters lived on paper.

I have spent the past week combing through the material I am keeping for my novel and refining scenes where I reflect on defining moments in my own life (while still taking creative liberties and stepping into the shoes of people on the other side of my experiences). The moments I’ve captured on paper that are powerful and worth keeping are the moments that are informed directly by my own experience. They are also moments that have painted who I am today.

I’m never going to be a fantasy writer, a science fiction writer, or a suspense thriller writer. No, I am going to be a simple storyteller. I tell stories I believe in that need to be told. This novel is different. There is life springing up from it that I haven’t really felt before. I believe it’s because I’m infusing real life into my pages.

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