Writing is a People-Growing Machine

Man with futuristic device on hand touching woman's forehead

The title of this post is not meant to invoke images of my broadening rear end, though until I took measures, that was becoming a regrettable side effect of the writing path. Rather, it’s meant to convey the idea that we can re-author our very selves through the process of crafting fiction.  

I can best explain by providing a personal example: Until little over a year ago, if you were to meet me, you’d believe “Jan” should be spelled “Zzzzzz…” Hypnotic manufacturers viewed my presence as threat to their financial health. When I posted on message boards, they handed out complimentary pillows.

I exaggerate, but in truth, no one beyond my family would describe me as “fun,” least of all myself. 

Then I hit a place where I needed a metaphoric kick in my writing pants. I signed up for an online course, and in the safe atmosphere created by the instructor, took a deep breath and let the silly out. The result? An audience kind enough to laugh and birth of a dark desire.

See, I’d been after a keyboard spatter, dammit. Perhaps even a coffeed monitor. I hadn’t been precisely aware of those goals until that moment, but that hadn’t stopped my subconscious from craving them. 

Since then, while at times I’ve become a bit like the class clown of kindergarten, I’m thrilled by the changes that stuck.

Yesterday alone I was described as one who “cavorts with fellow writers.” In a separate venue, I was called by my alter-ego’s name, The Tart. Most exciting of all — necessitating a fist pump and a wee but shameful moment of air guitaring — I caused another woman to snort pecan pie. 

Have you any idea how pleasing that moment felt? To irritate mucous membranes without having the responsibility to irrigate them afterward? Hee. 

I realize your goals may be considerably loftier than mine, but the principle remains the same: We pitch the philosophy that our characters can evolve, claim portions of themselves they’ve disowned, or temper too-dominant personality traits. If we allow that for our fictional beings, why not for ourselves?

And what sweet symmetry to precipitate change through the medium of words. 

How about you? Has writing allowed you to excavate any qualities you hadn’t previously acknowledged? Shred labels that chafe? In any demonstrable way, have you become a better or more-rounded individual because of your writing?

Please address all replies to the trembling palm in the corner, where I’m presently engaged in a battle that can only be deemed “epic.” On one side: a lifetime of introversion and looming RWA Nationals. On the other: a desire to act with courage and several thousand words to compose. It’s a fight I can win, right?



About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.


  1. says

    Jan, this is hilarious. I’m a big proponent of “if my characters can change, so can I”. Although I also expect the same from real-world people around me, and they aren’t really aware of these “rules”. LOL It makes things interesting!

    I think we all have other ASPECTS to our personality, and some of these are dormant until we have the requisite confidence, or until the right circumstances appear (i.e., pecan pie and nasal passages).

    The important part is to enjoy yourself, as well as your experience, at RWA. The people you know are going to be thrilled to see you, and the ones who don’t know you YET — well, you get to decide which aspect of your personality they see. :) It’s definitely win-win.

  2. says

    Huh. It’s difficult to imagine you as a snooze, Jan. Maybe this is an example of your fiction?

    Nevertheless, I totally agree with your conclusion that we can be better people through writing (or at least more interesting people). Me, I like to make my characters do the things I only wish I could–lie, cheat, . . . or fly! It’s a great stress reliever, and once I’ve lived as my character for a few hours it makes grocery shopping all the more do-able.

  3. says

    I caused another woman to snort pecan pie.

    Have you any idea how pleasing that moment felt? To irritate mucous membranes without having the responsibility to irrigate them afterward?

    One of the many reasons I love you, Jan.

    As for writing helping me to evolve for the better, yes, it has. I used to be panicked at the thought of public speaking, but being an author forced me into those situations. Now I know I can survive the experience and even do a pretty good job. I even kind of like it now. Who woulda thunk it?

  4. says

    I think writing has made me more aware of myself, but it’s also helped me to better understand other people. You know how we sometimes use a good reason to cover a bad motive or how we say we’re feeling bad physically when what we really mean is that we’re having a down day? I think if anything, my characters have taught me to listen more deeply to the people around me so I can hear what they’re really saying.

    Great post, Jan!

  5. says

    Love this post :-D

    Sometimes I wish I had qualities of my characters and then I think “well you MADE them, can’t you just adopt some of those qualities?” but easier thought than realized…huhn.

    I like hiding behind the character’s and behind my words and books — but sometimes I can’t hide and I’m noticed – then it’s “deer in the headlights” time …haw!

  6. says

    You always make me giggle maniacally, Tart!

    Writing is definitely causing me to grow, but I’m not totally sure in what ways yet. I’ll get back to you in a few years when I’ve decided! :D

    Good luck with your epic battle!


  7. says

    Donna, the thing that troubles me about Nationals is precisely those hidden traits. What if I discover in this late hour of my life I’m a closet snorter? As for other people, what’s up with their recalcitrance, huh? Concepts like self-agency and independence… Pah. ;)

    Anne, LOL, if you’d like, I can procure testimonials. But you raise a good point: we can afford to vicariously explore personal qualities through fiction. In fact, right about the time I took my course, I began work on a heroine I’d characterize as “feisty.” Coincidence I’d grow braver in my own world? Maybe, but I doubt it.

    Therese, a sign of an excellent boss is that they know to laugh in all the right places. ;) Here’s hoping I’ll observe those mad speaking skillz during the RITA ceremony!

    Teresa, empathy — yes! I’m quite certain there were times as a doctor when I only understood certain subtexts because I read. Now that I’m meeting fictional beings of my own creation, I’d like to believe that aspect of me has only grown.

  8. says

    I could never think of you as boring, Jan. You’re funny, witty and a very clever wordsmith. It appears to come so easily from a natural place in you and I wouldn’t have thought it was a new evolution at all.

    As for me? I think perhaps I measure my words more these days. I was apt to blurt out my thoughts before, either verbally or on email/fax and then scramble to explain what I really meant! I’m not sure if this is a product of age, which has resulted in more introspection and shedding judgement, but I do attribute some of it to my writing life and the need to consider what I’m putting down on paper to form a story and characters.

  9. says

    Ms. Tart,

    What a great post! I’ve alwasy considered myself an introvert wannabe extrovert. I think that is the beauty of writing, it allows those genuine but repressed parts of us a little airtime. Am I alone in reading and rereading every post, article, e-mail, tweet…etc. that I put out there? Am I the only one who must take a deep breath, pinch the bridge of my nose and mutter the affirmation ‘yes I can do this, no, I don’t sound stupid and if I do, it doesn’t matter…not in the big scheme of things’ before I hit send? I definitely find that this need, though still present, is diminishing the more I write. Now, let me just hit ‘submit comment’…yes I can do this, no I don’t sound stupid and if I do…

  10. says

    This was brilliant! Like you, I didn’t let the silly out until much later, and still mostly on paper. I often say,”I’m only funny when the audience has been drinking,” but really, I’m only funny when I let down my guard, and feel free to create (hmmm…does that mean lie and embellish?).

    And, BTW, you WILL win the fight!

  11. says

    Before I accepted myself as a writer, I was insanely quiet. Like, selectively mute a majority of the time. I’ve been writing seriously for about ten years at this point, and as I’ve grown as a writer, I have felt myself gradually taking on some of the qualities I value most in my protagonists.

    Used to be, when I encountered a problem, I would sit back and listen as more extroverted people took center stage to solve it, and even if I was watching a failure, I was reluctant to intervene.

    These days, when I’m stuck with the same kinds of situations, I am likely to find the same snappy comebacks actually rolling off my tongue in real-time that before I would have brooded over for hours or days, thinking, “Man, I wish I had thought to actually SAY that at the time.” I’ve become more confident of my own voice, and it’s allowed a lot more people to hear my opinions the moment they cross my mind.

    I often turn to fictional characters in trying to resolve a dilemma. The advice of literary heroes is timeless. I really want a bracelet that says WWMCD – What Would Main Character Do?

  12. says

    What a great post, Jan. I think in essence it boils down to fearlessness, in both writing and life. The willingness to just let go of all inhibitions and let it all–silly, passionate, or what have you–spill out. Do your kids ever watch The Magic Schoolbus? As Ms. Frizzle says, “Take chances! Get messy! Make mistakes!”

  13. says

    Kat, YOU should be at the RWA Nationals with me. We’d match with our deer-in-headlights look. :D But, to paraphrase Stephen Covey, first creation occurs at the level of thought. Who knows what time and persistence will bring?

    Lia, aw, thank you. Is it okay if I pet your comment?

    Deborah, how interesting! Are you speaking about learning prudence and/or clarity? As to your point about me appearing natural as a goofball, thank you! I’m going to speak more to that in a comment below.

    DL, you’re so funny to be sweating about a comment when you’ve got an entire book about to be released. But then, fear doesn’t understand rational hierarchy. I’ve had more palpitations about hitting “send” than having my hands inside people’s bellies. Thank you for pushing through. :D

    Average Girl, you said, “I’m only funny when I let down my guard.” That seems a great insight to me. Now to discover how to let go in ever safer places… Good luck with that, if that’s something you desire.

    Kellye, oh, you give me hope! “Sometimes funny on paper” is not at *all* the same as “sometimes funny in person.” And kudos to you for your resourcefulness in finding your role models wherever they serve you.

    Anna, sorry, you snuck in there as I posted. Yes, my kids both loved The Magic Schoolbus, and I quoted their teacher many times to myself over the inevitable child-generated messes. But them are fightin’ words, they are; worthy of use as a writer. Thank you for the memories and the motto. :D

  14. says

    Sometimes I’m unsure of how I feel unless I write something down. And some of my characters have inspired me to be gustier and more adventurous.

  15. says

    Good post because it made me think about something that’s been there, but I hadn’t really thought it through. Yes, in answer to your question, writing has made me a different person (probably not a better person!). I know I’m throwing a too serious note into this commment, but I didn’t start devoting most of my time to getting published until after a series of depressing/devastating personal events, and I think delving into writing helped me remember the lighter side of myself I wasn’t sure would ever come back. I love being able to pick what I’m writing about, and if I want to write crazy adventures, it’s lovely that it’s okay I do that. I don’t feel so weighed down anymore.

    And for you, Jan, the convention should be a great experience. You’ll find such an incredible range of people there, you’ll have character fodder for years to come.

  16. says

    Dee, I’m so glad you didn’t restrict yourself from commenting. I don’t want to prescribe a formula for replies, other than they be respectful.

    And how wonderful that writing gave you back a vital part of yourself. That may be a story for your novels one day, if not a blog.

    As for Nationals, hee, I’m sure you meant to imply nice things about the people I’ll meet, but I’m going to imagine you meant I’ll discover a villain or two. ;) That will make me feel even more adventurous.

  17. says

    Dear Tart — I have only known you as ‘the Tart’…the ‘Canadian Tart’ even (would that make you a citrusy butter tart?)!

    Having only just begin this whole writing adventure I don’t have a lot of background to draw on. But I can say that the little bit of writing I’ve done so far on my blog has encouraged me to look at the happenings of life through new lenses and attempt to take a 360 degree view of things for a change. I am not creating characters but its like I am creating new perspectives. It’s an amazing process…

    Thanks for the post!

  18. says

    Jacqui, I know many people who blog out of obligation. I’m glad you’re finding your experience both pleasurable and eye-opening. :)