Emotions and the Writer

As a writer, I have an odd relationship with my emotions. Too much emotion, and I can’t focus to write; too little, and my words are dead as old leaves. Over the years, I’ve developed strategies for harnessing the power of emotions in my writing–and strategies to keep emotions from stifling my creativity.

Emotions should be:
  1. Noticed. When I feel sad, happy, surprised, afraid, and so on, I tend to keep a little piece of myself as a detached observer. My writer self needs to take notes on the physicality of emotions. All those collected details will show up in my writing.
  2. Remembered. If I’m writing an emotion, I can make it more real by re-living, in memory, an event that provoked that emotion in me.
  3. Managed. If a little emotion can bring writing to life, too much can flatten me and make me incapable of writing. A little exercise, deep breathing, and yoga do wonders for focusing my mind on the present even when life offers me a myriad of distractions. (Doesn’t it always?)
  4. Freed. Often I need to clear out an emotional overload by talking, journaling, or drawing my way through a particular issue. I think emotions need to be acknowledged and accepted before they’ll continue on their merry way…freeing my mind for other pursuits!
  5. Rested. Writing an emotional passage can be as exhausting as living through that emotion in the real world. I come up to breathe afterward, exhausted! Don’t forget to take breathers and recharge.
I wonder: are people creative because they have rich emotional lives, or do their emotions intensify because they are creative?

Maybe the two egg each other on :).


Middle School: Ramblings of a Grownup who Remembers

I think our culture tends not to consider kids “real” people; you know, they don’t have jobs, don’t vote, their worries are “unimportant”. Not true. Middle school was about the time that everything became important in my life. It’s a time when everything becomes more complicated, too, and school begins its not-so-subtle shift from fun and simple (mostly) to a proving ground for the rest of your life.

Middle school is also a time when kids face some of life’s uglier lessons. Like–what is bullying? How do you stand up for yourself? When do you take a stand and when do you step back and decide the the fight isn’t worth it?

Many of today’s middle schools provide anti-bullying programs, to teach kids how to deal with tough situations. I like that. I like it because I remember seeing bullying, when I was in middle school, and I remember doing nothing. I was a quiet kid, a sheltered kid who never realized this kind of stuff happened. Without thinking about appropriate responses beforehand, I had no idea what to do–so I did nothing. I’ve regretted it ever since.

We’re teaching our quiet kids, our kids who see and care about injustices around them, to stand up and make a difference. Sounds good, right? The problem is that when someone steps outside their comfort zone–when a quiet kid tries to stand up against a perceived wrong–she might get it wrong the first time.

If I’d tried to stand up for this girl, the one with the greasy hair who had a mood ring one of the popular girls decided she wanted–if I’d tried to stand up for her, I bet I would have been the one to get in trouble. Why? Because I probably would have done it poorly, maybe used too much force or broken some unwritten “rule” of confrontation. And because the popular girls were the ones who knew how to lie. They’d practiced sweet-talking teachers before. They knew smooth ways to slant the story in their favor. And me? I was the gawky kid who got tongue-tied when embarrassed–traits that are often misinterpreted as signs of a guilty conscience.

The quiet kids, the sensitive kids–they’re the ones most likely to see the wrongs in our world and try to right them. Unfortunately, they also tend to be the ones with the least experience with confrontation. And when the quiet kids step into the territory of the popular, the more articulate, and the extroverts to assert themselves–well, sometimes they screw it up. Sometimes they’re the ones who get in trouble.
So what, should they quit trying? Nope. Quiet kids, introverts, gawky and shy kids, geeky kids–well, maybe we screw up when we try to stand up for ourselves, but we also grow and learn from the experience. And I still believe we’re the ones who will change the world into a better place. Guess that’s why I write for them.


What is Cheryl doing right now?

Who all out there is on Facebook or MySpace or some other networking site? I’m on Facebook, and it’s cool in some ways and a huge time sink in others. Man! I turn around for a few minutes, and I’m kidnapped or poked or tagged in a photo or someone wants me to send a flower to save the rain forest…

I haven’t decided how much of it is a “useful” use of my time, but it’s definitely fun. And it lets me keep in touch with people I might not otherwise contact quite so frequently–like the folks from the writing retreat I just attended. Pretty cool.

But back to what I’m doing right now–I’m READING! And rewriting, but in between rewriting binges, I now have a pile of books to devour. Yesterday I raced through R.A. Nelson’s Breathe My Name. Today, I’m reading it again, to absorb the great voice and language use. Here’s a taste:

“See?” Momma says, holding up the jar with the crawdads. “Everything knows about fear.”

And it’s true. I’ve seen spiders, the smallest spider you can see, little bitty red ones smaller than a freckle–they run like crazy if you put your finger down next to them. Their fear is as big as any fear in the whole world.

…Momma is good at scaring things.

And here’s another favorite passage, a spider metaphor that R.A. Nelson carries and develops through the entire story:

Maybe that’s what she always was. Only none of us knew, because she kept it hidden. And through everything, all the times she was kissing us or playing games with us or being the queen of our pretend kingdom, really she was a spider underneath everything, just itching to break free. And every night the stiff little spidery hairs were coming to the surface, and she had to be careful to pluck them off each morning so that no one would suspect she was really a spider.

As a writer, I sometimes forget to let my characters see the world through metaphor and whimsy. That’s my assignment for tonight: to take a passage and rewrite, letting my character make sense of her world with a type of understanding that moves beyond the ordinary.

Thanks for the inspiration, R.A.Nelson!

:) Cheryl

Writing Away Retreat – October 2008

If you caught yesterday’s post, you know two important things: 1) that I’ve resurfaced, and 2) that I just returned from the most amazing retreat experience ever. The Writing Away Retreat gave me the following:

  • One-on-one time with YA author R.A. Nelson, which involved a manuscript critique plus answers to my hundred and one questions about the world of writing, publishing, agents, editors, and authors.
  • One-on-one time with author/editor Lee Ann Ward of Champagne books, who also provided a manuscript critique, answers to another hundred and one questions, and great discussion about how the heck to balance being a mom, writer, and money-earner.
  • A coaching session with Lisa Gates, who is a great actress as well as insightful (and funny) coach.
  • Fantastic food, provided by Cicily.
  • Days filled with writing, writing, and more writing, interspersed with time in the hot tub, creativity hikes, and the occasional nap. I plotted out an entire book and wrote 30+ pages. (Translation: I’m VERY happy!!)
  • Encouragement, camaraderie, lots of info about the publishing world, and plain fun sprinkled between writing jags.
  • And evenings of readings and discussions around the dining table and fireplace.

Sigh…it’s hard to express. I left, though, recharged and refreshed. Maybe more importantly, I left with a new sense of perspective and clearer priorities for this crazy writing life. And I left writing!

Writing retreats, home-grown or otherwise, are great. This one–if you’re ready for hours and hours of solid time, if you could use mentorship more than another conference, take a look at the Writing Away Retreat. It goes beyond great. It’s fantabulous!!!

:) Cheryl

PS–Thanks to Cicily for the photo, showing me enjoying a particularly good meal….