Opening Wounds for Writing

About a month ago, I wrote a post on a writing quote from Anne Rice. Rice’s quote encourages writers to go where the pain is, where the pleasure is, wherever your passion is when writing. I believe this to be sound advice. However, I’ve found it hard to follow. In particular, I have a hard time going where the pain is. Opening wounds does not come easily to me, and my struggles make me wonder: are some wounds not meant to be opened, even for fiction?

I’ve sincerely tried opening wounds for my writing. I know that there’s a rich vein of emotional material there, but something keeps blocking me. Whenever I attempt to immerse myself in these pains and sensitivities, I hit a brick wall. It feels as though something clamps down on my skull and an unbreakable window stands between my writing self and those emotions.

Don’t get me wrong, my negative emotions and experiences do often slip into my writing. It’s when I consciously write those emotions, when I try directly opening wounds, that I can’t access them.

Image retrieved from Dennis Kroller’s blog

Ray Bradbury once said that thinking is the death of creativity. Is that the case here? It certainly doesn’t help. When we overthink the pain we’re trying to access, we fear revisiting it. At least I do. Self-preservation dictates we avoid that which causes us pain. If memories and emotions cause pain, our minds and bodies will do all they can to avoid those wounds.

Does that mean we should avoid opening wounds? Are some scars too fresh or deep to touch, or should we push past the avoidance reflex for the sake of good writing? Do we just need to stop overthinking it?

My answer is a firm maybe.

Really, the memories and emotions we want to avoid make our writing rich and real. If we’re so deeply affected by them, our readers will be, too. Still, we have to take our mental well-being into account. If we have severe mental and/or physical reactions to opening wounds, those wounds may not be ready to pick at yet. Someday we might be ready but, at the moment, we’re not.

Sometimes writing can help us work through our emotions, like therapy. Sometimes we need to forget that other people might read the work to let the emotions seep through uncensored. Many times, we need to abandon the idea of directly accessing emotions and memories and let our subconscious write for us. We may not get what we originally set out to do, but we’ll at least have solid material to work with.

Emotions are the, to state the obvious, the heart of writing. Anything written without them turns out like crud. That’s why we can’t let ourselves shut out our personal selves while we’re writing. We may not react the same way as a character should or we may blather on in order to work through raw emotions, but those problems are best ironed out when rewriting. The initial writing phase is all about getting words onto paper; we need to let our id speak then and give our ego and super ego the stage later.

Do you have a hard time writing about painful emotions or personal pain? Have you found a way to push past that brick wall? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

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