Holding Back

About a year ago, my friend and writing partner Jared Anderson asked me an interesting question.

“Could you write your most painful experience?”

“Yes,” I said. “I could. But I would never want to.”

Without going into a lot of personal detail, I had no desire to go back to this experience and talk about it . . . with anyone. Writing about it was absolutely out of the question.  There was too much pain, too much embarrassment, and too much unresolved emotion associated with this event, and so many years had passed, I saw no reason to revisit it.

Flash forward a year. Jared and I have teamed up to write a book, and the character I am writing goes through something very similar to what I experienced – not the same, mind you. I’m not writing autobiography, I’m writing fiction. This isn’t my story – it’s my character’s. That should make it easier.  That should mean that I can get through these scenes with little or no emotion on my part and write a believable moment that gives readers the genuine experience from my character’s point of view. But I have discovered an interesting phenomenon: I’m holding back. At times, I’m even avoiding.

After I finished the first scene where this issue came up, Jared read through it and commented that I hadn’t gone far enough, that the emotion wasn’t as really present.  I worked on it, and after the revisions I let the chapter sit.  When I went back and reread the chapter, I realized that I still hadn’t imbued the scene with genuine emotion.  I put it down and walked away. When it came time to write the next chapter, I found that – once again- I was holding back and not putting my heart into the scene.

I’ve talked, and written, in the past about “dancing with crazy” and I have always felt that I could dip into my emotional memory chest and use what I’ve stored there to make a story better, more realistic, and emotionally honest.  Unfortunately, this time, I looked into that memory chest, got frightened, and backed away.  I did something that a mentor once told me was “writing on the surface” and called it good.  I didn’t really get to the genuine heart of things, I glossed over it with pretty turns of phrase, a few well placed adjectives, and (because I got lazy), some adverbs to try and hide what I was doing.  I didn’t do any of this consciously, but I did it none the less.

So now I face a choice: continue to write on the surface and create more work for myself in revision, or allow myself to feel the pain, to relive the fear, and to write with authenticity. The choice seems obvious. I wish it were that easy. I have a few things in my favor, though. First, time and healing have helped me come to grips with everything, and I am much more at peace with what happened than I was in the past.  Second, I can acknowledge what I’m doing in my writing, be aware of it, and be more conscientious about it as I move forward. I can make conscious choices about how I proceed and that puts me in control. Third, I have the support of many people, but most importantly, my husband and my writing partner.  Each of them has been loving and understanding in the struggles I’ve faced with this project.  Each is aware of what a challenge this is for me, and each has offered a level of support that is meaningful and appreciated.

As we near the end of this project, the challenges get more difficult. Both Jared and I have talked about what this book means to us, what may happen as we wrap it up, and what will happen when we finish it. I know this much – I have learned more about myself as a writer as I’ve worked on this project than on any other book I’ve written. I have grown more, as well, and as a result, I believe I’ve become an even better writer, and that I will continue to grow and develop as I move forward. For all of this, I am grateful.

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4 thoughts on “Holding Back

  1. Excellent blog. And you are doing a great job!

  2. Linda Bennett says:

    This is a fantastic blog, I know from experience ( not writing but life) that the more you get it out in the open the better it is to deal with it. Talking or writing about the bad experiences always helps.

  3. In fiction we can show the truth but we don’t have to tell any facts.

    Dr. B, author, “The Mandolin Case”

  4. Ariel says:

    This is exactly what I was talking to you about, only my position is a little different because I am constantly having to deal with people referring to my nonfiction ‘characters’ and try not to chafe at that….but of all the hard things I have ever had to do–even some of these things that I have talked about individually with people when there was a good reason to–having to deal with it all at once, see it all in one place, and accept that this is me/this is my life is so overwhelming that I wonder if I can let go of it. You always bring up good points and great perspective, Mimi

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