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 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?


Latayne C. Scott said...

Guess I'm a fraidy-cat. I just can't write about the most painful things I'm experiencing. (Quite a change since I've always been able to do that.)

Thank you, Debbie, for this post. Made me uncomfortable-- in a good way.

You are a terrific writer.

Anonymous said...

Y'all are really pushing us to dig deep this week, aren't you!

I need this.

Thanks, Debbie.

Cherry Odelberg said...

"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..."

I want to have it all figured out so I appear wise and together. Above all, to avoid the embarrassment of getting it wrong and in print:)

Cherry Odelberg said...

Latayne, some things take time. It may not be wise to poke and prod and reopen a wound while it needs time to heal. Hugs or blessings or whatever you need most today.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

Reading "This Much I Know is True" by Wally Lamb helped me process at least part of the pain of my childhood. Through the character's anger, I was able to better understand my own.

I'm one who had a difficult time experiencing emotions unless I write them. Maybe that makes me a little "off"...but it's how my emotions function. I realized that the other day, especially. A friend of mine died in a pretty horrible way. I couldn't seem to mourn him until I wrote about it. Then the mourning let loose and I felt like I was healing.

I don't know how to detach my writing from my emotions/pain. I wish I could write a cute little story about a who DOESN'T die in the end.

Megan Sayer said...

Susie I'm like that idea what I'm feeling sometimes until I write it down...

Debbie I once read a book where the narrator laid out so perfectly the pain/emotional state of the main character that I was dumbfounded to the point of speechlessness. The writer had opened my own soul back to me. It was wildly confronting, and if I could have stopped reading right there and then I would have put the book in the garbage and never looked at it again. Unfortunately though (or perhaps fortunately) my curiosity overcame everything, and I read it - tried to skim read it so as not to get too involved - as quickly as I could to the end. I'll never forget that book. It changed my life.
Funny how novels can do that.

Josey Bozzo said...

I've connected with many characters over the years. I love this topic of digging down deep when writing. But I wonder, am I the only one who actually wants to use my fiction writing to explore those emotions? Most of the story ideas I've had so far have all centered around things I have experienced and want to explore through a fictional character.
I'm looking forward to being able to flesh out a story that deals with all the issues I've kept bottled up inside.
hmmm I guess I'm the odd ball out. Should have known something was off with me when I used to watch "touched by an Angel" just so I could get a good cry.


Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

I'm sorry I've been AWOL until now. It's crunch time at my work and I'll probably be working alllll weekend.
You all have such great insights and it's amazing how different we are as writers. I think I could write about a lot of painful experiences except those which might cause pain to my family or leave them with a sense of betrayal. No amount of writing is worth that to me. Some situations you couldn't disguise enough. Thanks for all your wonderful comments.

Henrietta Frankensee said...

We talk about writing pain but who has an easy time writing authentic ecstasy and euphoria?
I am experiencing these emotions because a friend gave me a precious edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's poetry. It was published in New York, Hurst and Company, and 'corrected by the last London edition' AND best yet the introduction and dedication are written by the author herself! This book is an only edition and was published while she was alive! Be still my rhyme-loving heart.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Wow, Henrietta! What a treasure. And what a great friend.