How much of yourself do you expose? As a writer, do you bleed emotion on the pages?
Where do we as writers draw the line when we’re writing about emotions or experiences that are so near and dear to our hearts that they break our readers’ hearts as they broke ours when they happened?
For many of us who write, purging emotions through words, handing them off so to speak to someone else, in our case fictional characters, can be, and for me personally, has been more cathartic than a thousand hours of therapy.
I used to think I was as normal a human being as there was. If you looked up normal, there I was, smiling and waving happily. I have never considered myself complex. Nor deep, just balanced. Loving? Yes. Successful? Yes. Demanding? Yes. Selfish? Yes. But all of those things within normal range. I’m not overly intelligent, overly attractive, overly educated, overly driven, overly competitive or overly talented. I’m not overly anything. I am your average middle aged woman who takes pride in her family, her work and her appearance. A person who does the work required to get the prize. Most women I know do the same, so once again, average.
But as life has thrown some wrenches at me these last two years, I am discovering there are more layers to the onion that is me than I ever realized. I’m not as ordinary as I thought I was. Recently I had an epiphany about why I am just now discovering this depth of complexity about myself. Well, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve always known that part of me was there but it stayed right where it was because I was afraid to explore it.
So, I did the next best thing, I wrote about it. But I only scratched the surface. I didn’t dig deep and go for the vulnerable human jugular. I turned back the throttle right before I got to that emotional rawness only those who have experienced true heartache and who have allowed themselves to feel it by acknowledging it existed.
I didn’t really start to step out of my emotional comfort zone until two years ago, right after my father-in-law died. I was in the middle of writing BLOOD LAW. And up to that point in my life, I had used humor to disguise vulnerability, and basically kept the stiff upper lip when it came to showing emotion. Translated: I held it in. So did my heroines. And heroes.
In the span of 13 months, I lost my beloved father-in-law, my baby boy enlisted in the Marine Corps, and then my only brother, who is as close to me as a brother can be and who was going through a divorce at the time, lost his baby boy in a terrible unexpected and very preventable accident. Just as I recovered from one loss, I was hit with another one, but my nephew’s death a year ago this month, did me in. It changed something deep inside of me. No, that’s not true, it didn’t change me, it released me. The emotion I had been so miserly keeping locked inside came pouring out of me. I could not write for months after my fil died, but when I finally was able to go back to BLOOD LAW, I was different. I was beat up. I was dark, and lonely, and miserable. When Will left for bootcamp months later, I had just started BLOODRIGHT, and tried to write as I went through another emotional meat grinder. As it turned out, I couldn’t write because I couldn’t focus. All I could do for those 13 weeks was pace and pray my boy would make it, and wonder if I was going to have to go kick some DI’s ass. Then, that actual moment a year ago, when I felt that terrible pain in my chest when my brother called and told me his baby was dead, will live with me forever. I was shell shocked. Unable to process what he was saying all the while knowing it was the truth. I was still writing BLOODRIGHT, and for those of you who have read it you know what a dark angsty book it is. I spent the week after my nephew’s death back east with my family, and all I can say is it was bittersweet on every level. But those five days and the people I spent them with changed me. They touched me in a place I had never been touched before. I will never forget it.
I came through the fire, feeling emotionally battered and bruised, used up and battle-scarred. And as much as this sounds contradictory, today, because of it, I feel stronger emotionally. I survived two devastating losses, and live with the distinct possibility that my son may go to war in a terrifying time. But I’m still standing and so God bless them are my mother-in-law and my brother who still faces demons, but wakes up each morning glad to be alive. I don’t know how he does it. But he has made me a proud big sister.
To those of you who have lost someone you love with all your heart or watched someone you love with all your heart drop to their knees in utter despair, knowing there is nothing you can do but be there for them, you know how it feels when your heart breaks too. Keeping it in, not acknowledging it only keeps you from doing what you must do for yourself, mourn. For me, someone who always kept her emotions safely tucked away, I was forced to let them go because if I didn’t, I could not be there the way I was needed to be there. Especially for my brother.
I still cry in private. I’m working on that. Hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But, I’ve noticed something profoundly different and extraordinary in my writing: It’s deeper. More emotional. Honest. It’s damn scary some of the stuff that’s popping up in the stories I’m writing now. I’ve allowed my characters to free fall emotionally, and I cannot tell you how liberating that feels for me, a writer who always thought she wrote layered characters.
By allowing my emotions to surface, so too have they surfaced in my characters. I have always said I write what I know, apparently that has never been truer. I mean, I do still have an imagination, and use it extensively to create characters, plots, and scenarios, but there will be more of an emotional truth not only my heroines, but my heroes and supporting characters as well.
And while I may still be an ordinary woman, from this day forward, my characters will be nothing short of extraordinary. ^_~
So, tell me, do you wear your emotions on your sleeve or do you hide them behind humor and or sarcasm? Don’t be shy, inquiring minds want to know!