April 16, 2013 by Nathaniel Tower
As a writer of fiction, it may seem easy to escape from reality, to hide behind the characters and the plots we imagine. For me especially, with my tendency to write absurd and bizarre and surreal stories. Surely there’s no truth, no personal element, in a story about a boy born with hands made out of oats, right?
It’s true that most of my published work is fiction. And it’s true that most of my published work seems to have very little of my own personal life in it—although it is vastly influenced by my experiences and observations. As a coworker once tried to argue, there’s no such thing as fiction.
By the way, the aforementioned story isn’t about a boy whose hands are made out of oats. It’s a story about overcoming perceived handicaps. But that’s an entirely different conversation.
Not too long ago, I read a fantastic and revealing piece by writer Brett Ortler. His essay inspired me to write my own personal piece, the most personal of anything I’ve written. It was a story I had thought about writing many times, a story I told infrequently and choked up when I did.
I sat down and struggled through draft after draft, trying to capture what I felt when my daughter was born. It’s supposed to be one of the greatest moments, one of those memories that makes the eyes mist with joy.
For me, the memories of that day are always difficult. The tears come, but they aren’t from the joy of seeing my beautiful little girl born. They are the tears of fear, of what almost wasn’t.
It’s a story I haven’t told often. Honestly, it’s not what people want to hear when they see you for the first time after a baby is born. They simply want you to talk about how wonderful it was.
I never wrote down my thoughts/reflections on the day in our baby book. The space provided couldn’t possibly be enough to express what I felt.
To craft deeply personal nonfiction, we must have the right inspiration. Thankfully, Brett’s story fell into my hands. This is a story I needed to write. I needed it for me. For my wife. For my daughter.
When I finally finished the piece, the question became what to do with it. Did I risk sending it out and having it rejected? Did I simply post it on the blog for everyone to see? Or did I keep it for myself and my wife?
I decided to take the risk. It was something bigger than us. It’s a message that needs to be shared.
Luckily, it was only rejected once before being published by the wonderful Red Fez this past week.
It’s important as writers sometimes to share the personal moments, to make those connections to others. After posting the link of Facebook, I found out plenty of other people I know have experienced something similar. They thanked me for sharing my story. It helped them cope with their own experiences.
The positive feedback I’ve received on this piece is overwhelming, and it may just be the most “successful” thing I’ve ever written. It’s certainly the most necessary.
Whatever your reasons for writing are, sometimes remember to write for yourself. Interestingly enough, one of the greatest parts of writing for yourself is how much it can affect others.
My daughter recently turned two. She’s no longer blue.