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Everything we write whether it’s literary fiction, memoir, or science fiction, comes from the influence of our own lives. Those parts of our lives might be written in metaphors or vague references. Some of us are more direct, we write stories based on actual events in our life. We write to play and make sense of our reality.

The question I’ve been playing with? Well, what is reality? In context, especially, to us writers. Reality is our perception of the world, the priorities we arrange in our day to day existence that become most notable.

For example, someone who is caught up in the intricate details of the mundane may take note of the steam rising from a cup of coffee, the light shining off the leaf of a tree, the lines on the sidewalk. The same world might be very different for a person who is focused on climate change. Their mental and emotional bandwidth will note every plastic cup being sipped on the way to work, news headlines that catch their attention and fill their thoughts will be focused on  our environment, and therefore their reality. An animal lover will notice every dog in the car, every injured squirrel, and know all the local shelters and animal-helplines by heart and therefore program their world reality with that focus. The same world can be a million things depending on who you are.

For me, this becomes a fascinating idea when it comes to the work we do as writers. We are obviously writing about things, places, and scenarios that come partially from what is most palpable to us. Readers therefore will interpret our stories with the perspective they are seeing the world with. When I wrote The Body Myth, I honestly thought most readers would pick up on a fundamental philosophical question about existential purpose. When the book was published, however, readers picked up on other elements of narrative, many of which I had not thought about myself.

I’d like to toy with the idea that writers are essentially reality expanders. Expanding other possible truths together, some of which we might never participate in.

But what happens when you as a writer truly want to use real world events: personal and political and ‘talk’ to the reader about it? How do we align with the fact that we both have complete control and no control over our own narratives?

Here are a few things I’ve been realizing and working with over the past couple of years.

Using World Events To Merge Our Different Realities

When I write fiction, I tend to wink at societal structures and the irony of them. I also put in subtle political messages. Sometimes they are not so subtle. Sometimes you have to write out exactly what you want to make the reader think about. And that becomes tricky: am I being way too blunt? What would be the purpose of objectivity if I were to rewrite it?

The publishing industry usually boosts reviews or blurbs when you have a world event to integrate it with. Whether it’s the era of COVID,  a story set a month after 9/11 or World War II, we as readers and writers are united by things we’ve  experienced together or read about. There is something compelling about being able to access narratives based on events that have become common public knowledge. But writing something just for a marketing boost won’t serve your work well. It’s important to see why you as a writer want to use a common reference or era in your work. How did it impact the way you think? Why do your characters come alive in this time period? This is the only way that we give our readers a fair chance to interpret our work from their perspective, and therefore build expansiveness in the way we think and write.

Being Personal For The Right Reasons

I’ve been noting my own journey in terms of feeling freedom when it comes to writing. The most potent facilitator of my ability to write with growing confidence is the awareness that no matter what I am writing, fiction or not, is the acceptance that it’s just one perspective.

The more I accept this notion, the more I find I am able to approach my readers with a vulnerability that doesn’t demand it be agreed with or interpreted in the same way. Giving ourselves the freedom to understand we are one response to a plethora of possible literary creations is liberating. In my experience it allows me to write more confidently and unabashedly, because it is personal. And the personal can’t exist fully if it’s caught up in being ‘right’ or trying to be evangelical. The only objectivity you owe your work is the allowance that readers can feel and see it the way they need to.

In the end, we always write for ourselves. The paradox worth noting is that we as human beings are constantly evolving. When we write ‘real’, we might want to embrace the cosmic irony that  we change every moment and because of that, our reality does too.

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About Rheea Mukherjee

Rheea Mukherjee is the author of  The Body Myth, (February 2019/ Unnamed Press).  Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in several publications including Scroll.in, Southern Humanities Review, Out of Print, QLRS, and Anti Serious among others.  She is the co-founder of Write Leela Write, a design and content laboratory in Bangalore, India. She spends most of her spare time eating and making vegan hipster things. Learn more at www.rheeamukherjee.com, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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