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Monday, January 21, 2013

Writing as Therapy

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about writing about traumatic events. The more real something feels for you, the more real it's going to feel to the reader, generally, and so upsetting things can be good to tap into.

I wanted to set down the line between doing so to your benefit and your detriment, though. While writing from an emotionally raw place can be liberating, it can also lead to characters growing one-note, or your books feeling repetitive.

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons
The difference is in whether you're working through it. An upsetting past can be excellent fodder for fiction, but it can't be one's only inspiration. At some point, you have to move on.

To give a concrete example, maybe your school years were stunted by years of bullying. So, you write a book about a kid who's the only one who can see that bullies are possessed by demons. The kid teams up with a spunky sidekick, they exorcise their school, save the day, and all is well.

Maybe your book languishes as a trunk novel. Maybe it becomes the next bestseller. In either case, what's your next book about?

If your answer is, more evil bullies, it's time to take a step back. Your first book may have helped you deal with your issues, and maybe the second one is your way of trying to spark that feeling of freedom again. It won't work. And, if you didn't actually deal with it in the writing of the first book, you're just malingering.

It is possible to write about the same subject that upset you in more than one book. You can even have your issues emerge as themes in more than one novel. But, if you're always writing about the same thing, and never moving forward, you're stagnating. Readers will be able to smell that a mile off.

As with writing from trauma, the solution is to know yourself. When you're revising a manuscript, look for common threads that appear in other books, or things that particularly resonate with you. If there are a few that crop up every single time, cut them, and find something new to explore. If you find yourself drawing a blank, it may be time to speak to a therapist to work through the unresolved issue.

Captain Awkward has a guest post on finding low-cost mental health solutions in the US and Canada, if it's cost and lack of health insurance that's stopped you so far. Give it a try. It's worlds better than turning your potential readers into unpaid therapists.

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