I just wrote a note to one of my students, and thought it blog-worthy. I don’t think you need any back story, except that my student is writing a novel and the protagonist has some things in common with the writer, both having lost a beloved. Here’s what I wrote:
If you are comfortable with it (or maybe even if you’re a bit uncomfortable–stretching is really important!), spend some time reflecting on paper about your experience and how it might shape your approach to the protagonist’s loss. I think acknowledging this will be a way to make the protagonist’s story deeper and more authentic. (Do you know about method acting? It’s the parallel that comes to mind right now–where an actor accesses past experiences and emotions to help portray a character. In a weird way, this is similar. I think about this a lot as a writer, and do it fairly often, sometimes without realizing that’s what I’m doing.) I would really like to see this in your proposal. This linking who we are as humans to who we are as writers is the kind of reaching and growing that seems very appropriate in a graduate level writing program.
If you were to sort of skirt around it or not really “own” it, it might not get to the richness that is possible by owning it.
Joan Didion gets at a related something in her essay, “On Keeping A Notebook.” Didion writes, “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive or not.” Otherwise, as she goes on, these former selves tend to haunt us.
And as usual: I need to follow my own advice.