Personal fictions : the use of fictional autobiography in personal development.
This thesis contains the results of my research between 1994 and 1998 into the uses of
fictional autobiography in personal development. The topic arose out of my
observation, both of my own experience and the experience of students attending my
creative writing courses, that writing fictional autobiography as part of a writing
apprenticeship not only enabled the development of writing skills and the finding of a
writing 'voice', but often had a therapeutic effect on the writer's relationship with himor
herself, and with his or her significant others.
I set out to explore this observation through an examination of my creative writing
course 'Autobiography and Fiction' (subsequently called 'Autobiography and the
Imagination'), which I taught at the University of Sussex Centre for Continuing
Education from 1991 to 1996. I issued questionnaires to all 78 students who had
taken this course, to generate data on the benefits of engaging in the writing of
fictional autobiography. I also conducted interviews on the same topic with 5 of these
I analysed the resulting data using the theory of the Germani American psychoanalyst
Karen Horney, and to a lesser extent that of object relations theorists D.W. Winnicott,
Christopher Bollas and Marion Milner. Where appropriate, I also used theory of
literary and social narrative.
The thesis presents the three main findings of the research, namely, that the writing of
fictional autobiography (1) can facilitate a closer contact with the inner life, resulting in
a stronger sense of identity and the finding of a 'writing voice'; (2) can help to reveal
and work through problems of identity which cause writer's block; and (3) can provide
a means of're-writing' self-narratives which have been 'written' in the psyche by
family and society. The thesis concludes with some suggestions as to how fictional
autobiography might be used in a self-analytic or psychoanalytic context.