Ernest Hemingway said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts”.
Why? Writing is hard enough. It’s hard not to have a fear of judgement when writing in general, why open oneself up and share one’s darkest moments? Isn’t it good enough to just craft a good story, follow a decent outline of some sort, and just write?
One of my favorite words is chiaroscuro. It means simply the contrast between dark and light. It in particular applies to oil paintings, but I like to think it has anagogical applications. In honor of the season I’ll include a picture that has excellent chiaroscuro:
Including painful moments or negative emotions gives depth and character to your work — just as the painting would not be the same without the dark.
In Threads of Fate I included dark moments from my life fictionalized. It was hard to write about my life at first. I’m a private, introverted person and I don’t share my innermost thoughts usually. Why should I fictionalize them? I suggested recently that one of my friends start a blog and he said that sharing his life on Facebook (which he does) was the most he felt comfortable doing. Was writing Threads of Fate cathartic? Not exactly. It caused me some anxiety due to the personal nature of a few of the scenes when I sent out the rewrites and started receiving feedback from beta readers, especially since I actually do know some of my beta readers and interact with them on occasion socially. Then I got over it for the most part.
Why Else? Some of you don’t write fiction. You don’t want to twist fictions to fit any worlds floating through your heads. I challenge you that it can be as cathartic as you want it to be, and you also don’t have to share it with anyone. Sometimes writing a page and then shredding it can be relieving.
If your writing is only for yourself, then it can still be helpful. I know someone who is going through a rough time right now and writing is helping them — letter writing. This isn’t quite Collateral Beauty level letter writing, but the letters are a safe release of what’s filling the writer’s heart.
It can be cleansing. Once I had a recurring nightmare that I would be strangled in bed — someone was standing over me in my sleep and I would wake up with an unknown attacker. I fictionalized this into a short story about a young woman who is attacked by a random stranger in her car. I stopped having the dream after writing the story.
How? The adage if it bleeds it leads is probably familiar to most of us. As is curiosity killed the cat. We can’t look away from the darkness. It’s an affirmation of life. I would suggest focusing on a negative event or emotion in your life and exploring it for all it’s worth. How would this event happen in your characters’ lives? This negative event or emotion does not have to be the central conflict of the story, it can rather be an internal conflict that moves the story along.
Also an emotion can have repercussions that last — in the TV show Benched Nina has to deal with the aftermath of having a very angry moment seemingly ruin her career.
Take what has happened in your life and condense it down to the basics. Once you have limited it to the simplest facts, you can then transport those facts into the confines of your universe.
These are excerpts from The Writer’s Survival Guide from Chapter Four: Your Psychohistory:
A writer’s personal psychological history is a hidden treasure, because the creative imagination can take any experience and develop it into a unique story… Any emotional state that you have uncovered can be woven into your work with a twofold consequence–you’ll be purged of unresolved feelings and you’ll create an original piece of writing.
I don’t believe that we can truly be original, but at the very least we can be authentic. I’ll explain my stance on originality in a future post.
Tara Brach wrote in her recent article, “Facing My White Privilege“:
We need to be able to name where the hurts are; to be able to name our sorrows and fears; to not be afraid of anger. So often in Buddhist communities, anger is considered bad, but anger is a part of the weather systems that move through our psyches. We have to make room for these emotions, and there are wise ways to do that.
Tara’s article has nothing to do with writing, but as soon as I read those words I wanted to share them with my readers. I felt that they had practical implications. I hope you find wise ways to balance the weather system that is your psyche.