Often, I develop mythos that are based on extensions (sometimes fantasy-based) of personal trauma. There are times when it becomes too personal and I literally feel like hitting the shift-delete on everything. Most of the time, I don't do it - I just walk away. I move on with my dayjob, "real life," and forget about finishing this silly writ. And usually my cheap HDD crashes and I try to move on permanently. But, I always end up coming back to it.

When I try writing something that is not personal, I'm told that my writing is too generic. When I try writing something more personal, if I tell it "in a rush," I get the same flat feedback -- the only way that I seem to be able to get the right way to express it is to basically put myself in tears and re-live it as I slowly put it in words.

So how do I learn to write in a way that is neither too generic or too personal?

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    So - what you're asking is: What methods do you use when you want to use personal trauma to enrich your writing? Is that it?
    – Lexi
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 5:01
  • Do you mean "mythos" (singular) or "myths" (plural)? There is a difference.
    – Robusto
    Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 14:52
  • This is not the point of the question, but as regards "usually my cheap HDD crashes and I try to move on permanently", I suggest making backups. My preferred method is distributed version control, which makes backups easy for text (by pushing). Commented Dec 15, 2011 at 19:02

2 Answers 2


If your issue is that you want to improve your writing when you are not writing about a personal crisis, you need to work on strengthening your imagination.

You may be finding it easier to transcribe a trauma because the feelings are in your head, very alive and immediate. That's exhausting, however, and not necessarily appealing to your readers. Good drama makes for good storytelling, but not all personal dramas are good stories.

What you essentially want to do is practice being someone else. You need to learn to get into someone else's head so you can observe what that person is thinking and feeling. When you have a sense of what someone who is "not you" is going through, you can start to create a character who will not be flat.

I hesitate to recommend writing fanfiction, but if you're passionate about a TV show and you're already part of an online community, that might be a place to start. TV characters are already drawn and demonstrated for you, and there are other fans to "check your work," as it were, so you could use that as a training exercise. Can you write a drabble (100 words), a vignette, a short story from the POV of one of the characters? Then ask someone else who watches the show if the character's voice and actions sound right.

Or depending on your personal proclivities, maybe take an acting class instead, and learn how to build a character a different way. That skill could then be extrapolated into your writing. (And acting is somewhere more productive to dump your "moodiness." ;) )

  • +1 on most of that, but I have to disagree on the acting bit. Stanislavsky to the contrary, it is not the actor's internal emotional turmoil, but his external, carefully observed, practiced and rehearsed technique, that carries a character to an audience. All that "wallow in your neuroses" stuff just makes actors neurotic, and Lord knows many of them are neurotic enough to start with. :) Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 12:40
  • Your general point is good, although some people do swear by Strasberg. I wasn't going for Method acting as much as I meant that if you put all your energy into producing an emotional character (by whatever means), you won't have much left over to be moody with. (and very excited to see you here on Writers, Alan. :D ) Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 12:49
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    Catharsis rules, eh? :-) Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 12:52

From your question, I would suggest that your best next step is to do a lot of reading. Find books and stories that are in the genre you are interested in, and read, read, read.

When you feel that a particular story is effective, has an emotional impact, has characters that come to life in your mind, read it again. In your second round, though, don't read as an audience; read as a writer. Identify what the author did that made that character, that plot line, that scene really come alive. What did the author include? What did she leave out? How did she build that interest or understanding or suspense?

Revisit one of your own stories and see where you could have used the same approach to make the writing more effective, then go ahead and rewrite it, consciously using what you have identified in your model.

What you are reaching for is technique, and the two most important things that develop it are studying what has been well done, which means reading, followed by practice. Writers circles, texts and forums like this one can add insights and point you in various directions, but ultimately your style and your success come from those things in the writer's craft that you have observed, internalized and can apply. From there you will develop your own new techniques, perhaps, but that will never happen until you know that there is such a thing as "the craft of writing" and have gained some mastery of it.

Technique in any art demands a certain amount of detachment. For all but a tiny, exceptionally skilled few, it is impossible to craft something well while wallowing in an emotional fugue. That includes both trauma and inspiration. By all means be inspired, by all means be sincere, but it is your craftsmanship, not your internal state of mind, that will carry your story to the reader.

Personal trauma (and personal success) in your own life may help you to find something to say, but to communicate it effectively requires technique.

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