Friday, April 19, 2013

Respond to Darkness with the Light of Writing

This week I focused on how writers confront emotionally difficult material. Monday's post, Tough Calls - Handling Gritty Issues in Cozy Fiction, spoke to finding a balance between encouraging readers to learn more about serious issues and, well, keeping them reading when they're really in your book or story for entertainment. On Wednesday I switched to nonfiction with Writing What's Difficult: Finding the Balance. When I wrote those posts, I had no idea how timely they would be.

Bad news is around us always, but the past five days have been particularly wrenching here in the U.S. and a lot has been, is being, will be written about events that stir emotions. Aside from the public and communal responses, each of us has also had very personal responses, and those can be hard to express even to ourselves.

Let's try. That's what writers do, after all. And if you're "not really a writer" but rather a reader and citizen of the world, you might want to try this, too. You don't have to show it to anyone. You don't even have to keep it. But writing about the events that shake us, whether they are profoundly personal or widely shared, can accomplish several ends. Writing our way through can:
  • provide a means of expressing our feelings without limiting ourselves, because first drafts are for the writers' eyes only
  • clarify our thinking as we dig deep and refine, and hopefully move beyond raw emotion to deeper insights
  • help us move forward with better understanding of ourselves and, if we're lucky, the world around us.

So here's a writing prompt for the weekend, or for later.

Find a photograph to which you respond emotionally. Although it might be a news photo or something from the Internet, it doesn't have to be -- it might instead be a photo of a person or pet or place that has special meaning to you.
The emotion you feel does NOT have to be sadness or anger or pain - sometimes the best way past trying times is to focus on what lifts us. That is up to you - you're the writer.
Now write. I suggest you freewrite, that is, just write without stopping and without trying to control the direction. Let your writing take you where it will, because that is where you need to go. I also suggest that your allow at least 20 minutes, preferably a bit more, for this freewrite because it's like other forms of exercise - most of us need to warm up, and then we need to get past a "wall," a place where we just want to quit. I hit mine, writing and walking, at 20 minutes. You may hit it sooner or later. When you hit that wall, keep writing for at least ten more minutes. I think you'll find that the magic happens on the far side of the wall.
And now you can stop and put it away. I suggest you keep what you've written and come back to it later - you may find that it contains something you can use, or rereading it may prompt you to follow up with more freewriting.
Remember this: no writing, especially sustained writing, is wasted. Even the pages that make us wonder later how we could write such crap are useful. They help us build our creative muscle. Keep writing.
I would love to hear back from you if you use this exercise! Or comment below.

Books About Writing

Are you looking for a few good books about writing? Here are five the I highly recommend. Feel free to add to the list in your comments! (For earlier recommendations, see these earlier posts: Writing What's Difficult: Finding the Balance and Write Here, Write Now - I'm Back!)
  • On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  • In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal, edited by Mary Paumier Jones and Judith Kitchen
  • Writing a Book that Makes a Difference by Philip Gerard
  • Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller
  • On Writing by Stephen King

Have a creative weekend!


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