Friday, June 7, 2013
Writing is All Fun and Games Until Somebody Gets Hurt
Nobody said writing would be easy, but I wish there had been a disclaimer early on somewhere. Sure, 'Writing is easy...open a vein and bleed' is all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. (Boy, that just didn't come out right, but there it is.)
When my daughter was in elementary school, she experienced her first loss of a pet. Her beloved cat, Snipper, was hit by a car one day. She cried like her tender little heart was broken. I held her and we both cried. Then, in the midst of her sobs, she pulled away and ran for a pad of paper and a pencil. To my amazement, she began to journal her feelings as she cried. I later remembered that her teacher had given them journals at school and encouraged them to record their feelings. Something in the experience must have been cathartic for her. She filled pages with abandon until she was spent, with all her love for Snipper boldly scribbled on the pad.
I wish I could write like that. The first draft raw and searing with emotion. The trouble is that I clean up the bad things before they get onto the paper. I don't really want to remember them. I want to move past them to the place where I'm recovered and can look back with compassion, comfortably removed a safe distance away, to dust my hands and experience the relief. Once there, I sure don't want to go back.
When I was doing research for Tuesday Night at the Blue Moon I was fortunate to find a mother who was willing to share her story of losing three young children to Niemann-Pick disease. She taught me a thing or two about courage. She willingly revisited that dark place in the hope that people would be drawn to God. Our phone interviews were sometimes cut short when she became overwhelmed with memories, and it often took her days to recover, but she was willing to open her heart and private pain. My story wasn't her story, but much of her experience became my protagonist's experience. I am grateful to her and amazed by her courage. I wasn't sure if she would be able to read the book when it was done, but she did (finally) and was pleased with it.
I have a theory that fiction writers are particularly sensitive and this is the reason we shy away from 'getting real'. It's doubly hard for us to take a step back from the pain and maintain perspective. But the best writers are brave. They walk right up to it and poke it with a stick. That doesn't mean they won't get hurt.
Have you connected with a character's pain in a way that was healing to you?