Note: This post is going to go a bit long, so if you want avoid my mental issues leading up to my writing comments, skip down to my writing tips at the bottom.
A Little History
Over the last couple years, I've had a growing sense of impending doom. There wasn't anything that was going wrong, and yet, something was very wrong. I tried to figure out what I was worrying about, but nothing was there. The feelings worsened and I settled into a depression. I got on medication that sorta helped.
Then Christmas of 2012 happened.
Or rather, Christmas was grand, but after Christmas I ran out of my medication. I needed a refill, but first I needed to talk to my doctor about possibly upgrading my dosage. Unfortunately, because of the hustle and bustle from Christmas and New Year's Eve, I waited to get an appointment and was far over the edge before I got to my doctor.
By this time, my mind felt like it was unraveling. I was having crying spells where I would breakdown and cry for no good reason. I was afraid to get out of bed and just wanted to sleep all the time. Going to work was impressively hard, since a job brings its own added stress. With a series of illnesses, my world folded in.
During the build-up to this collapse, I listened to an episode of the Writing Snippets podcast where they interviewed author Robison Wells. Robison is very outspoken about his own struggles with mental health and as he talked, I recognized a lot of similar situations that I was experiencing. I learned two things:
- I'm not alone
- I needed professional help
Denial - Not Just a River in Egypt
I knew I needed help, but I began fighting myself. Why should I waste money on a shrink? If I was any kind of man, I should be able to shrug this off. If I just gave it some time, it'll go away. Maybe if I alternate my medication, things would get better. And really, as I see these words on the screen, I realize that, as of yesterday, I was still using these excuses.
Hell... I'm still using them right now.
But during a family meeting about my Dad's health, I had a complete meltdown. My siblings were trying to figure out where each of us could help with our parents in their declining years and my wife mentioned how she was just worried about keeping me together.
Suddenly I felt like my 'issues' were the center of attention and I became very embarrassed. I knew I needed help, but I didn't know how to... how to... talk about it. As I tried to explain, there were plenty of tears. In fact, at one point I was crying so hard that I thought it sounded like laughing. Or maybe it was cackling... sometimes it's hard to tell.
Well, I survived my meltdown and have an appointment to see my doctor. But I got thinking about how this uncomfortable experience could influence my writing. What had I learned? I thought about the nugget of wisdom, "write what you know" and 'evaluated' me.
Why did I cry?As writers, we present the world to our readers. Part of that is explaining our characters motivations and feelings. Any good story has conflict, or as author John Brown put it, a problem. John said, "Find the problem, find the story." I realized that this is how writers understand what a character is going through. We put ourselves mentally in horrible situations and think how we, or our characters, would respond in that situation. If we fail to communicate the emotion of a problem, we fail as a writer. Remember the famous quote by Robert Frost: "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."
How did I feel as my family looked at me?
What was I doing with my hands?
What was my posture?
Where were my eyes looking?
How did my mood alter as family offered help/comfort/support?
Did I believe them?
Did I believe me?
Was I tired/cold/hungry?
Anyway, this morning I thought about what I was doing during that meltdown. For instance, for some reason I was pulling on my bangs and wondered why. It probably wasn't because I wanted my hair to grow. I realized I was using my hand/arm to cover my face. I guess I felt so vulnerable that I was trying to hide. Part of me was embarrassed that I unconsciously acted like that, but my writer's mind said, "Hey! What an awesome way to show vulnerability in a character. Save that in your writer's toolbox!"
And you know what? My writer's mind was right. With the right tweak, I can use that experience, or at the very least some of the details, in my writing. I guess sometimes, to understand the deeper motivations of our characters, we have to understand our own motivations.
So, even though I'm going through a really difficult time in my life, it's giving me experience that otherwise I could only pretend to understand. But more than that, it's gotten me thinking of the unconscious things we do as a result of problems, the nervous ticks and awkward gestures that give away our private thoughts.
Sorry. Alright, moving on.
What about you? Have you written your private pain into anything? Do you 'people watch' and milk the pain of others? Which emotional situation do you feel you convey well in your writing because you've had experience with it?