Every weekend I take an hour or two and read through the emails and Facebook messages I get from people who have stumbled upon my book or this blog. I think when people first read the honesty in my writing it moves them to be just as honest, and that’s why my inbox collects the confessions of strangers, some who have never talked to their spouse about their weight issues.
That contact really helps me stay focused. When I’m suffering through an unmotivated low, or a flying on a cocky high after a great review or public event – these messages keep me grounded and force me to confront parts of my own struggle I might not encounter for years if I were doing this alone.
There aren’t many questions I haven’t been asked. There’s not a lot of dark corners left in my life these days. That alone is a sign of progress.
Still, today I got asked something for the first time. It was from a friend in the southern states who also has a blog. She asked me how my obesity has impacted my writing.
The writing that most of you read is about my weight loss. They’re personal accounts of events and thoughts I’ve had along the way. My obesity, and my decision to try to get healthy, has led me to be more honest in my writing than I ever have before.
But there is a lot of writing I do that you don’t see -because it’s not part of this blog, and it never makes it to my social media. I’m much more guarded about the fiction I write. I have always believed that the stories and characters I pull from my mind have the potential to expose much more of my own life than my first-person posts, but who knows?
The truth is, I don’t really tell those stories for other people. When I write a short story it’s a much more selfish exercise. When I’m writing a post, a column, or an essay I want to find the clearest way to get the idea from my head to your heart so you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about. When I’m writing fiction, part of the fun is challenging the accessibility rule. I get to be subtle and hide stuff. I get to beat around the bush rather than lead you right to it.
But how has this weight loss journey changed me as fiction writer? I honestly never put any thought in to this until today – but it’s led to a kind of mind blowing realization.
My stories have opened up to look more like real life than they used to. I wrote little stories in small places before. They read more like plays, confined to a single location. They had a heart beat to them for sure, and I’m proud of some of that work, but they had no room to breathe.
My fiction now is so much broader – and it’s because my whole life is filled with these experiences that I literally had to make up before. I wrote a lot about relationships and they were really cobbled together versions of my own failed attempts and the kind of things I’d pick up in books, movies, and tv shows. Hardly dripping with the authenticity that connects with readers.
I regularly experience things now that I didn’t before, and I get to witness people living their lives in ways I didn’t before – and all of that lands on the page in some way.
The little things that make life more enjoyable are the same things that make a story more enjoyable. I was driving down a highway this weekend and the woman I was with kicked off her shoes and folded her legs up under her in the seat. When she’d laugh she’d clap her hands together and press them down in to the seat while she smiled so wide her laugh was trapped inside. The minute I saw her do this I knew I had to go back and rewrite a scene in a story I wrote last year. The idea was there but this experience brought it to life. When she’d say something sarcastic, I’d look at her expecting to see the familiar playful glint in her eye, but instead I saw my own reflection in the mirrored lens of her shining sunglasses. The fun you could have with that! It all lands on the page, eventually. Or at least it lands in my phone as a note that I will try to write something around down the road.
So my weight loss journey seems to be having the same impact on my writing that it’s having on my life. It’s making me see old things in new ways, and some things for the first time.
And while I’m happy those experiences can land in my stories, as I think back to this weekend, I’m mostly just grateful that those experiences are now a part of my life.