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Very Meta

When asked what the best early training for a writer was, Hemingway claimed that it was “an unhappy childhood”. Check. I have that one down. I had a very unhappy childhood and therefore got some of my training in early.

That’s not to say that writers without this burden are lesser in any way but dwelling on Hemingway’s words it’s easy to appreciate the logic. Going back - way back – Aristotle established that drama and narrative encompass three basic stages in terms of audience engagement with character: Pity; Fear; Catharsis.

People suffering an unhappy childhood live the first two, playing characters in their own life story. Stories, by and large, are not about happy people, living happy lives in a happy world. Writers with unhappy backgrounds perhaps - only perhaps – have a better early grounding in conflict (real and imagined): physical, verbal, institutional, environmental and internal. Perhaps these structures are already imprinted upon them and find successful expression in fiction.

Catharsis may manifest in many ways – finding the love of their life, raising a happy family, seeking stable employment and pursuing their dreams. Writing tends to fall into the final category. Certainly, before becoming a full-time author it can be a boon having employment that also allows time for writing. Having a partner and family that love you and support you in your goals is highly recommended. Making a promise to yourself during that unhappy childhood, however - and more importantly keeping it - can fuel a desire to succeed creatively that can last a lifetime. The writer’s journey and destination (whatever form that might take – textual completion, publication, awards, financial reward etc) is a living catharsis. Very meta.


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