Writing as Therapy

I’m not one to hash out personal problems with writing. When I was a kid I kept a journal off and on, and one sporadically in college and law school. That was as close as I ever got to consciously trying to work my issues out on paper. When I write fiction, it’s usually to escape, and to get myself an HEA (Happily Ever After).

A few weeks ago, my mom officially became a five-year survivor of cancer. As the doc told us that five years is usually the magic number for cancer patients, and that chances of recurrence were now much, much lower, I released a breath I’d apparently been holding for half a decade. I was so grateful I didn’t even put up a fight when she asked to watch Twilight as her celebration present.

With any luck, we shall never again speak of sparkly vampires in this blog.

But it was a very good day. And since then, the loss of that subtle bit of tension has relaxed me in a dozen different little ways, and I’ve been remembering a few snippets here and there from when she was first diagnosed.

One of those snippets was a story I’d started called The Companion. If you’ve been following me since I started writing on the Evolution Forum, you might remember the blurb I used to have for it on my website. It was labeled as an “in progress” story and I was ticking along with it, sure that it was going to be done in short order. Then my mom got sick and I dropped it. After a few months I even took its description off my site.

Alexander, one of the main characters in the story, had a grandfather who died of cancer. Taking care of the person who raised him shaped a huge part of his personality, and he’d wake up in cold sweats remembering. In the end I just couldn’t deal. Hit too close to home for me. Unlike a lot of other writers out there, I just wasn’t strong enough to delve that deeply into my own feelings and experiences.

Or so I thought.

In the last week, as I looked at the books I already have out, I realized I’d been doing exactly that.

Take Chasing Winter, for instance. In the beginning of that novel, Jesse is fun and full of life. Then he’s crippled by an accident and his entire view of the world changes. He’s cold, bitter. It takes him a long time to learn to live again.

I’ve never been hurt physically like Jesse, but I did have to drop out of law school due to an illness. In hindsight I see that law school wasn’t for me anyway, and not because I couldn’t hack it–my grades were good and I would have made a fair to decent lawyer. But I sure as hell felt broken in the aftermath of me leaving.

In Want Me, Joel’s secure life is turned upside down, and even though it’s a wrenching journey, he finds talents inside himself he didn’t know he had. I’ve been there. Although without a crazy ass hottie trying to seduce me at every turn, which was probably a good thing. Probably.

Lone, my newly released werewolf novel, features a character who’s dealing with someone close to him finding out who he really is. That’s happened to me. I’ve been in the other person’s shoes, too, having to absorb that someone wasn’t who I’d believed, and then having to decide if the “new” person was still the person I cared for.

Even though I don’t dive into a story intending to tackle a deep-seeded personal issue, I do go in with the intent of making my characters as real as possible. Realistic responses to stress, believable emotions, etc. In order to achieve that, sometimes I have to take a good hard look at personal experiences I’d much rather forget. As far as the story goes, such introspection is totally worth it. Everyone knows what it feels like to be rejected. Everyone knows how it feels to want something so badly it twists your stomach into knots. Everyone knows what it feels like to be alone.

In that way, every writer has a connection to their readers. It’s all about building a believable bridge from the story to those basic emotions.

If I get a bit of a catharsis while doing it, bonus. If a light bulb happens to go off in my head and makes me go “Ahh, I get it now,” even better. But it’s not something I go hunting for, and I can say from experience that most of the time that little light doesn’t even flicker until I’m re-reading the story years later.

But I figure it must help, even if I’m not aware. Maybe in some little way it makes me stronger, and the stronger I am, the more passion I can embrace. The more passion I can embrace, the better everything around me becomes.

Huh, sorta like Ace and Spade. I just realized that.

2 Responses to “Writing as Therapy”

  1. Jaya says:

    Writing can be an awesome thing. I think that writers who manage to convey authentic characters and emotions have very little choice but to draw on their own experiences and emotions in order to connect those characters to readers.

    As an avid reader of your fiction, I am grateful for all of your struggles and experiences because they translate into characters that make me bleed just a little bit and that is what I am looking for in a good read.

    Basically, your struggles make you a better writer.

    And this is something I’ll definitely have to remember as I tiptoe around my own issues as I write (my mother was diagnosed with cancer as well; she died 18 months later). I hope to look back and see the emotions from this stuggle somewhere in a story soon.

  2. Jaya,

    My condolences about your mother, and thank you for sharing with me.

    And I agree with you–writing can definitely be an awesome thing.

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