“It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper, even if it sells, because there are other ways in which a writer can bring in the rent money besides writing bad or phony stories.” Paul Gallico, Confessions of a Story Writer.
I’ve always said that if a writer isn’t feeling it, then their readers won’t either. Which means opening those veins. We routinely externalize what many people routinely internalize.
There’s a purpose to that, as any reader can tell you who has laughed or cried at the events in the lives of their favorite characters. It’s escape yes, but it’s also catharsis, a chance to experience those emotions fully and safely. In books they have friends who will stand beside them, will comfort them, as sometimes they don’t have in life. I think the greatest compliment any reader can give me is to tell me that one of my stories made them laugh or cry.
Oh, and sometimes it’s just fun to make that escape.
That emotion, though, can be what makes living with writers so difficult. Especially for their families, who sometimes don’t understand that five minutes before the writer was deep in a scene where people lived, loved or died. And those emotions are still there when they come out of the writing jag. (BTW, this isn’t true for everyone, but it is for many of the writers I know.)
It’s perhaps also the reason why so many writers turn to alcohol and drugs, to either free up those emotions or help manage them.
It can be more difficult for some…
As a child I was raised to control my emotions, as were so many others. Don’t cry, don’t get angry. Other people don’t want to see that. Don’t cry at movies, it’s not real. (And I get weepy at the drop of a hat.) Life isn’t fair, I was told, get over it.
We attempted to change that trend by trying to preserve our children’s self-esteem, by protecting our children from the things that would hurt them, which only turned into a variation of the same thing. By not being allowed to succeed or fail, we denied them the right to either their jubilation at winning, or their tears at losing. At shouting that life isn’t fair. Or to reassure them that sometimes isn’t fair, but sometimes it is. And that sometimes it’s pretty great.
So, I learned to bottle up my emotions, even in the face of some pretty horrific events. Except on the written page. In my writing I could be more truly myself, with all the complex emotions that all of us feel, great love, terrible sorrow, anger, as I sometimes couldn’t in life.
Even so, emotion sometimes it bubbles up in life anyway (to my utter horror and embarrassment). As so many of us have experienced of late. It was so difficult to see the the situation in CT unfold. People still don’t understand why I get so upset at things like that, why I get so angry. It was gratifying to see the President brushing away tears, expressing emotion in an utterly appropriate reaction to terrible events. His words at the moment were just what many needed to hear, and his emotions something folks needed to see.
Nothing can close that terrible void in the lives of those families, but I know, hope and pray that family and friends will have gathered around them to offer what comfort they could.
Many of the rest us turned to our loved ones for comfort and support. Those who had children held them extra tight. Husbands and wives hugged each other.
If anything good can be said to come out of what happened, perhaps it’s that, we reached out to each other.