Are there techniques a writer can use to record day-to-day experiences so later on they can remember them and work them into their writing?
Most people have moments where they feel strange or uncomfortable or interested as a result of something that they encounter or see. This sort of emotional response is like a notification in your ‘mental inbox’ that you’ve found a moment, however small, that needs writing about. Keep a journal in which you record those moments as concisely and clearly as possible. Don’t feel like you have to have a story. Put the situation down on paper with as much intimate detail as you can as quickly as possible. Write it on your phone if you have to. The story can come later.
Were there any challenges in writing about your past in your debut novel, The Last Thread, and if there were, how did you overcome them?
My early life experiences were often difficult. Writing them felt confronting, and I’d often fall into a depression when I began writing. I used third-person to separate myself from this character who happened to share my name. That helped. The biggest shift in thinking that makes a person a successful autobiographical writer is when they start seeing all of their experiences as story material rather than just something that “happened to them.” It’s liberating. If you’re writing about people you know who you worry may recognise themselves: tell yourself that they will never read your work. This is a useful lie. It means you won’t have to worry about making them upset.
Do you believe all writing is autobiographical?
If we are talking about the creative kind, in one way or another, yes, absolutely. The things we have experienced are the spark that makes our stories come to life. Those experiences may be unrecognisable to others by the time they appear in our stories because our imaginations tend to transmute them into different forms. But they are always still there.
Michael Sala was born in Holland and grew up moving between Europe and Australia. His short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies, and his first novel, The Last Thread, was the winner of the UTS/Glenda Adams Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards in 2013, and his second novel, The Restorer, was shortlisted for the fiction categories in the 2018 NSW Premier’s and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, as well as being long-listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.
Join Michael Sala for his workshop, Turning True Stories into Fiction on Saturday 7 December, 10am-4pm at Writing NSW.