Post by hannahkates on Feb 3, 2017 18:42:11 GMT -5
I was listening to a presentation earlier today, and a question was asked that I thought did not receive enough attention. I do not remember how it was phrased exactly, but it breached the subject of writing with (and through, I suppose) a mental illness. I know that several participants have also posted about writing with chronic illnesses. (Whether they be mental or physical, I don't think that it matters much.)
This brings up a great point, and subsequently a question: A lot of us write for different reasons. Some write because it's their joy--others write for a respite. Some write to create worlds, others write to escape demons. It's a trope that great writers are alcoholics, manic depressives, etc., and some would contend that it takes great pain to produce great work.
When writing through a difficult stage of life, do you think that it's appropriate to "bleed into the page" with the struggles that you're facing? Is there a point where you can put too much of yourself into a story? Raw emotions often produce wonderful, heartfelt narratives, but it's daunting to be learning about the querying process and realize that pouring that much of your soul into something might result in getting your heart keelhauled.
You write what you know. Is there a point where this can get too personal? Writing can certainly be cathartic, but querying means rejections, and rejection--even when its from the kindest, heartfelt agent who declines your offer in the nicest way--can be harrowing.
How do you (And DO YOU?) separate yourself from your narrative, even if it deal with a traumatic personal experience?
How does one go from nuclear engineer to penniless writer? Let me tell you a story...
I do find that writing through traumatic experiences or my more severe depression lows can be very helpful to me. However, I also know that most of that writing is word vomit onto the page, and I never let anyone else read it.
I once wrote a poem about my struggles with PCOS and infertility. I brought it to workshop. It either went over the readers' heads (too young to understand the emotions, mostly) or they were afraid to tackle it. It can be hard to get honest feedback on a work that people know is intensely personal.
Once you've obtained some distance from your trauma or from the worst lows of your struggle, those things can be incredible tools. I can write about the effects of grief realistically, now that I know it. I can portray sexual assault victims with sensitivity, now that I've been there. But I think distance is the key--even if you write while you're in the midst of drowning in that experience, you must edit with a clearer head.
I don't separate myself for the most part. But I'm also very capable of dealing with rejection at this point in my life.
Below are some of my favorite writers' thoughts that inspire me to leave "blood on the page" because I truly believe that's the best kind of writing.
In no particular order...
And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. - Sylvia Plath
So long as you write what you wish to write, that is all that matters; and whether it matters for ages or only for hours, nobody can say. - Virginia Woolf
If the writing is honest it can't be separated from the person who wrote it. - Tennessee Williams
In the end, we all become stories. - Margaret Atwood
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. - Robert Frost
I like rudeness a great deal better than flattery. - "Jane Eyre" Charlotte Bronte
If you don't see the book you want on the shelf, write it. - Beverly Cleary
First, I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to write about it. We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand. - CS Lewis
Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering. - St. Augustine of Hippo
What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. - Carl Sagan
Post by joymccullough on Feb 3, 2017 21:54:31 GMT -5
I live with PTSD from sexual assault and my debut novel is about sexual assault.
It's also the tenth novel I wrote. It took a great deal of growing in my craft to be able to write about something SO personal and do it justice. In the case of trauma, I think some distance from the event/abuse/experience is probably helpful. But even though I have distance from the event, I don't have distance from the PTSD. And people live with mental illness that's not going to go away can write beautifully about it while they're living it. (I'd highly recommend Louise Gornall's UNDER ROSE TAINTED SKIES.)
My own experience is that writing through that can be incredibly heart-wrenching, but also heart-healing.
Now, there is the question of how one handles the rejection of what feels like the most personal parts of themselves. One of my previous ten novels was also about sexual assault. I was represented at the time, but the book did not sell on submission. I thought those rejections would CRUSH me. They didn't. Were they fun? No. But I'm not sure they ended up hurting any more than the rejections for other books that didn't sell. Because I put myself into all my books, whether they're about my deepest pain or not. Rejection always stings. (Or cuts deeply.)
But then you write the next thing. You find a new way to write that story. And then, when someone ultimately does want to publish that story? It is the most amazing, affirming thing in the world.
Post by midenianscholar on Feb 4, 2017 11:21:55 GMT -5
I love what joymccullough said -- "incredibly heart-wrenching, but also heart-healing".
I find that using the traumas I've faced helps me to access the part of me that makes my writing stand out. Because of Life Stuff, I am a self-trained very reserved and controlled person in most contexts. This caused a problem with a lot of my early manuscripts because my characters responded with too much control half the time -- a byproduct of me not wanting to make them (or myself) vulnerable.
So, I've found ways to make myself be honest about my traumas (read: counseling) and ways to make them safe to access when I need it. I don't necessary write about the *exact* instances of my trauma, but I use those feelings to push me as deep as possible with my characters. For instance, in my debut THE ELEVENTH TRADE I have a character who's struggling with an intensely traumatic experience. Even though his experience and mine are not the same, I can use the bits that overlap (like "the almost-memory sits sticky in my head" when he's trying not to think of The Thing) to help me get there.
I also find it helpful to block out specific times for the most difficult scenes. In the same book, I had two chapters where my character loses control completely and has to live through what happened again. I scheduled a Sunday afternoon, put on headphones, and pretty much didn't breathe for three hours straight while I forced myself to write until I couldn't stop writing. I had to put myself in that unsafe space of spiral-panic so that I could show his. But at the end of the three hours, I took off my headphones, got tea, and watched a show until I'd shaken it off. It's exhausting, but because I now know I can pull myself back out and into a safe place, it's been effective for me.
However, I definitely wouldn't recommend that if you haven't spent a lot of time learning how to handle your traumas. Don't put yourself in a dangerous place for the sake of a scene.