Writing Through Emotional Upheaval

Today’s tip isn’t what I originally planned, but as John Lennon supposedly said, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” After an emotional weekend helping one of my adult children move after a bad breakup, I wonder how other writers deal with emotional upheaval, and offer a few ideas for you and for myself.
Writing Tip for Today: Your spouse loses a job. You find out a friend has terminal cancer (or YOU have cancer!) Your precious grandson hangs in the balance as their parents fight and break up. How do these traumas affect your writing life?

  • Use the Force. One obvious way to deal with life’s upset apple carts is to channel those emotions into your writing. Fiction writers are always looking for deep and HONEST emotion to help readers connect with characters, but nonfiction writers can use emotion to flavor and deepen a piece, too. If you already write about what you are passionate about (and if you don’t, you should), funnel some of the sadness, grief, elation or joy into the scenes and topics you write. Feel strongly about whirled peas? Let the feelings you are keeping hidden spill over into whatever you are writing.
  • Cry and Laugh. When I feel paralyzed (I couldn’t write a word right after September 11), I often resort to watching/reading something hilarious and/or silly. Some of my personal faves: Silver Bullet with Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor; Goonies, Mel Brooks’ Frankenstein and anything Monty Python. Authors who tickle my funny bone: Susan Jane Gilman, David Sedaris, Laurie Notaro. Do you have “Go-to” movies or books?
  • Stay on the Sunny Side. It’s great to channel your sadness/grief/anger into a story, but be careful about becoming morose. Readers will abandon a story where nothing good EVER happens or where the conclusion is hopeless. Horrible things happen in real life, and mid-life crises can make things feel pretty miserable. But the storyteller who can’t or won’t inject some sort of redemption, hope or silver lining into a tale risks alienating readers. And that’s without actual aliens! Pardon me, I need a dose of Monty Python to correct my very bad no good mood. What strategies do you use during times of emotional upheaval?

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

8 comments on “Writing Through Emotional Upheaval

  1. Thanks for the post, Linda, and sorry for your family woes…
    When I was going through what ended up being nine months of insomnia, Janet Evanovich ‘saved my life.’ I laughed so hard so many times, and felt so much better afterwards. Not highly-nuanced, or complex plot-lines. Just crazy characters doing crazy things. Highly-therapeutic!

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