Seeking My Best Self

trying to make sense of my life – and lose some weight

Writing My Way Out

Any serious writer’s work is nothing more nor less than their own self turned inside out and exposed to all. You can’t hide your unflattering bits, because if you try to avoid those dark little corners, your writing becomes oblate, uninspired, and worst of all, unread. Maybe that’s why so many famous authors take their lives by bottle or by gun. It’s not easy to look that deeply into one’s own soul.

This week, I’m attending a writer’s workshop at my graduate alma mater, Pacific University. This morning, I listened to a lecture given by author Carolyn Coman. She is primarily known as a young adult writer. She theorized that perhaps the reason many writers avoided writing about teen years is because “it conjures up a time that was unbearably painful, and they don’t want to revisit it.”

Of course, the internal places we don’t want to go are EXACTLY where our deepest emotion – and therefore, most fruitful writing – can be found. I thought about my darkest corner. I pictured writing about my late husband’s suicide. I imagined writing a whole novel from his perspective, from the point of view of his pain. No. Even after all these years, I can’t. I mean, I really can’t.

OK, I thought, from whose perspective COULD I write? I knew the answer immediately: the standpoint of his mother, a woman with Alzheimer’s, who knew that someone had died tragically but never understood who. Her point of view would provide a whisper’s breath of distance from the event itself, give myself and the reader the ability to look at it clearly for a moment or two, and then lapse back into forgetfulness. It might just be possible.

But it takes years to write a novel. Do I want to spend that much time in such a painful place? I called my friend Neil and asked his opinion. He was quiet, then said, “Perhaps the question isn’t whether you want to spend years there. Perhaps the real question is, how many MORE years you want to spend there? You’re never going to leave that place, not for good, until you write your way out.”

Ouch.

Why the hell do I call my friends, anyway? I know they’re just going speak painful truth. You’d think I would learn.

But perhaps this is the choice every writer faces. Drinking. Suicide. Or writing our way out.

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