Everything You Write is Autobiography

The good writer/artist/preacher disappears in his work, but that does not mean that he is not revealing himself:

Writing is revealing yourself, not concealing yourself. Revealing yourself does not necessarily mean exhibiting yourself. Revelation and exhibitionism may be the same thing, but not inevitably. If you conceal yourself, you are no writer. You may be a banker, a general, certainly a statesman—but not a writer. Writing need not be an unabashed revelation of the emotions, but when you write you express, even through other characters, what you are and who you are. You cannot repress and express—they are contradictory terms.

and

In everything you write there are two more characters than you think. There’s yourself, and there is your audience.

-Samson Raphaelson, The Human Nature of Playwriting, Kindle loc. 480, 1946

Everything you write is autobiographical. You are always a character. You cannot not work from your own experience and personality. The trick is that you should be on a mission of revelation, not exhibition.

The good preacher (and writer) reveals his heart, but never puts himself on exhibit. In the words of Spurgeon, his own chains clank as he preaches to himself, but the listeners won’t always discern the sound. They’ll think it is their chains clanking, and that he is actually preaching to them.

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3 thoughts on “Everything You Write is Autobiography

  1. Thank you for posting this! I need to check out Raphaelson’s work. The death of the author has dominated so much that we need more stuff like this. Hey, where’s your Augustine quote from? It’s great. I didn’t know that writing as a learning process dates all the way back to him.

    • Two things: the Augustine quote is cited in John Calvin’s Epistle to the Reader at the very beginning of the Institutes of the Christian Religion (at least that’s where I got it from).

      Second, here’s another good one for you that I was planning on making a separate post out of at some point. This is from Chuck Palahniuk’s essay, “Reading Out Loud – Part One” (which is from his series of writing-craft essays at LitReactor):

      “No matter how much you bury your real-life in fction – you can never write anything that’s not some form of diary. It’s an old saying in art that ‘Everything is a self portrait.’ I heard it from Tom Spanbauer, but he heard it somewhere else. Maybe Pablo
      Picasso. The source doesn’t matter. The sentiment does. Nothing you’ll take the time to conceive and execute isn’t some aspect of you. Your experience and your education, even your physical and mental abilities shape how you see the world. And therefore what you create.
      You are doomed to painting self portraits and writing diaries…”

      Palahniuk sees this as a good thing that we should learn to make the best of.

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