I think about this often. This blog is gender neutral to the extent I can make it so, but I do have a gender and experience the world through the lens of that gender.
All of my perceptions about how the world works are based upon my own experiences and knowledge and no matter how much I try to expand my worldview by reading widely or knowing a diverse range of individuals, the person whose experience I’m most familiar with is my own. So, even if I make a conscious effort to try to have a neutral perspective, my default is always going to be my own experience first.
Now, interestingly, I think if you don’t tell people who you are they will tend to use their own biases to assign you to categories and those categories won’t always be accurate. I know I’ve seen more than one person assign a gender to me even though this blog is gender neutral–sometimes the wrong one. (I think I even lost at least one blog reader due to a statement I made that they assumed I was making from the perspective of the gender I am not a part of. Amazing how much our perceptions of the speaker affect our judgment of what they say.)
I think about this a lot because some of the things I write surprise me and are definitely not related to my own personal life experience or a result of my own beliefs in how the world should work. But at the same time I think there’s a core worldview that runs through each writer’s stories.
Whether they approach their characters with compassion or judgment, whether the world is full of gray or black and white, whether life is a challenge to be met with enthusiasm or full of obstacles that hold characters back…
I think all of that is consistent throughout a writer’s stories. (At least, all of them written during a specific period in a writer’s life before life taught them otherwise.)
I know there are certain characters I won’t write about as primary characters because I don’t want to spend that much time in someone like that’s mind or glorify them. But I have written secondary character viewpoints that made my skin crawl because I thought it was important to portray to readers that people like that exist in the world so they can maybe recognize them in their own experiences.
And I’ve written main characters that do bad things but weren’t bad people because I very much believe that people are a product of their environment and that the societal structure around someone can make them do horrible things even if they’re not evil. (See The Lucifer Effect by Zimbardo for a whole book about that.)
So, it’s tricky to judge someone by what they write. And yet at the same time the stories they tell and the way in which they tell them is core to who they are.
I do think that people are a little too quick to look to someone’s writing and say, “See, I knew they were a horrible, vile person in real life because of this one scene in this one book out of fifty that they wrote.” Especially when it never occurred to the person making that statement before the news about the writer was known.
And, having just finished reading The World According to Garp, and thinking back to the few Stephen King books I’ve read, and about Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, I have to say that an author who wants to be successful has to be an author who doesn’t care what anyone thinks about what they choose to write about and they also have to be someone who is willing to take things to an extreme far past average.
So, while it’s an interesting academic exercise to wonder about, at the end of the day as a writer I have to just not care and keep telling the stories I need to tell. And, if I’m really, really fortunate, someday a bunch of people who never knew me can spend hours debating what kind of person I must have been based upon my many, many published books and a few comments taken out of context to support the person’s argument either for or against me.