Writing what you know
‘Write what you know’. Some hate the idea, some don’t. Some work with both experience and imagination. All work in their own ways.
With writing what you know, it all depends upon what you know and how you want to write about it.
Have a messed up mind? Over to the horror genre you go.
Been dumped quite a few times? Feisty chick lit for you.
Secret alien the government does not know about? Go immediately to Sci-Fi but don’t expect anyone to believe you.
Have issues, problems, trials and tribulations? Write that stuff out out when you freaking well need to. It’s cheaper than therapy. It does not need to be published. Often you will write more freely if you don’t think about the world reading it.
Be discerning and have the courage of your convictions when you decide whether this writing will be shared. Sharing could save a life, a marriage, a relationship or a mind. It can also, in the wrong hands, in the wrong place, set you further back then when you started.
I am a heart on her sleeve kind of girl. I get on my own nerves sometimes with how I am an emotional tap – ‘faucet’ to the Americans present, otherwise you’re going to think I mean tap dancing, although ‘Emotional Tap: The Musical’ could be amazing. Imagine the angry speed tapping, the slow, half-arsed tap of the big toe denoting melancholy…
I digress, as always…
Being an emotional whirlwind is both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, I am not so repressed I’m practically turning myself inside out trying to feel something.
I was once incredibly repressed; holding all the emotions in the world inside and probably some of yours for good measure. Caution: do not try this at home. One day those bad boys are gonna unleash themselves and then the fallout is not going to be pretty. Take it from a survivor who knows.
So not being so repressed helps in that I can let my caring side out. I’ve been told I’m good at empathy. I try. It takes one emotional crank to know one.
On the negative side, it does mean being a victim to my emotions. On any given day I can run the gamut of feeling mellow, to smiley, to sad, to pissed off, to ‘Woah, she’s about to detonate’. It’s not always as fun as it sounds.
Something as simple as eating an ice cream can begin with elation at imbibing sugary goodness, with a radical switch to desolation that there are starving children in Africa who don’t have ice cream .
If you are a Brit you will be nodding in acknowledgement at the school of ’70s/’80s parenting that valued the directive to regularly demand that your children clear their plates because the starving children in Africa don’t have enough food. Those of you in other countries may have heard a variation of this. Insert the chosen country of your parents’ choice.
If you lived in Africa in these decades, I apologise for our parents’ naive understanding that children fit to explode from eating all the pie in the UK could halt your famines.
I naively tried once to tell my Mum that I would post my leftover mashed potato to Africa, believing that was the route to eradicating famines, rather than money and aid. Rather than receiving praise for my altruism, all I got was a clip round the ear. Sheesh.
My writing therapy
Since I have become a Proper Grown Up Writer (TM), I have come to realise that writing can be therapy. I have written a novel based on a person’s experiences with depression. She is not me by the way, but yes, I have been there.
I know how many writers cast aspersions on the newbie writer using their biography in their novels. Yes, this can be gratuitous, but it can also work. I wrote my arse off for that novel. Not literally of course, although I did get a serious case of writer’s bum.
I confess that there was therapy happening as I typed. I got to write what I wished I had been told about depression; that you’re not faulty for having it, you are not a criminal for feeling suicidal, you are not depression itself and you did not choose it.
As I wrote the first draft, I vented, cried, and laughed at the funny side of depression (black humour ahoy). Don’t be put off by this. It is not a whingy, whiny novel full of ‘woe is me’ business. It’s searingly honest, inappropriate and quite funny. Well, I think so anyway. It also, without intention, made me stronger.
Brit lesson of the day for the non-Brits: we don’t call them ‘panties’ here, unless we are a ’70s porn star or should be arrested for sexual offences. We just don’t. Ew.
I’m now writing short stories whilst the second novel bubbles away in the back of my mind. I wish the little bugger would stop simmering and actually come to the boil. I will extract it out of my brain soon, even if takes a lobotomy.
The short stories generally aren’t based on my experiences but they still unleash some of the stuff that lurks in this strange mind of mine. Some of it is surprisingly dark. I thought I didn’t have that in me. Turns out I have been repressing a serial killer in there all the time. See? Repression can be bad if kept in.
I could have been famous for a murder spree if I hadn’t started writing. Now I unleash my homicidal thoughts upon my keyboard rather than upon the twatwaffles I have to deal with on a daily basis.
There are, some things I have written that I know you will never read, unless you snoop in my undies drawer or raid my house after I’ve shuffled off this mortal coil. My past diaries are one. The others are letters…
Letters are a counsellor’s often favoured method of choice for telling the bastards that hurt you what they did. Most of the time you will be advised not to send it and even to destroy it. The intention is that you get the release that comes from writing it.
You may want to send your letter to the addressee, but I’d strongly advise not to, or at the very least asking a trusted friend to read it before you do. You could get sued, arrested, beaten up, killed or ridiculed if you don’t. It depends upon how much of a git the recipient is, and your word choices.
I have often found that the writing and aftermath of finishing the letter is the hardest part. It feels masochistic to put yourself back there, usually in a head space you have not entered in a long time. The thing is, it has always been there, taking up room and chipping away at you.
The letter unlocks a door and unleashes all the hurt, anger and pain. The emotions flood out and threaten to overwhelm you. At this point, make sure you’re supported. Writing alone will not sustain you. Real live people need to support your creative outpourings.
Then know that if you have written without reservation, not fearing the truth of your feelings, time can allow that writing to bring you through. I am only speaking from personal experience here. There are no guarantees. It can take years and many letters. I just firmly believe that there is catharsis in writing.
I wrote such a letter recently. I am facing head-on a traumatic time from quite a few years ago that has been hurting me ever since. It was more difficult writing that letter than an my novel ever was. I have no immediate release, but I also feel hopeful. A corner has been turned…
So writing can be therapy; not only for the writer but also for the reader. How many novels have you read that spoke straight to your soul? How many times have you cried because it hit too close to home? How many times have you laughed because you’ve just seen your issue in a humorous light?
Writing as therapy isn’t selfish. If it is just for you; you deserve it.
If you share it, even metaphorically or subconsciously, there is someone out there waiting for you to tell them they are not crazy, weak or worthless. Your words have the power to do this. What a gift and a curse!
Oh, and if a reader ever leaves a review or sends a letter thanking you for healing their hurts or casting their issue in a new light… bill them the going rate. Those therapists make a lot of dough. Writers do not. Just kidding. Sort of.