On Writing

The Research of Writing What You Know

I’ve begun (I’m about 70 pages in) a new novel. I think it’s Young Adult, but it may be moving past into the genre of good old-fashioned ‘fiction’ (is that what it’s called these days?!). In any case, this new project is getting its influences from what I know.

Now, typically when I write, I write from what I know and splay out my characters and their actions based on some version of one emotion or another that I have much experience in – namely L-O-V-E (baby). What I mean by that is, I know about love because I live a life where love leads the way – and it’s a major foundation piece in who I am such that I can’t really avoid it. My characters crave love, and they love to love, and they want to live a life with love in it. And this is good and warm and fuzzy – and then I’ll do what I can or what the characters tell me to do, and move forward from there. Example – can someone love another to death? This is the path one of my characters has chosen to journey on – and got his answer.

Alas, this way of writing is based on an emotion  or way-of-being that I live enough to know it.

When it comes to blogging, I am very often writing about exactly what I do – which, in essence, is another way of knowing. Right? Example: I write about being a mom giving real-life, this-really-happened accounts of my life. What I live I write. I have also been writing in a journal for close to thirty years. And writing in a journal is very much about writing what you know – it is, for me, a day-to-day recording of what I do and how it, and the rest of the world, makes me feel. I am comfortable writing in a ‘journal’ form. I am comfortable blogging about things that happen in my ‘mom’ life.

But what about…the dark stuff?

The things that I’ve lived, that I therefore know, that are negative.

How do I get to the point in my writing life when I am ready to…or that I am comfortable enough to write about? What about the people that are part of this real-life, actually lived moment that is…dark?

What I’m saying is – if writers are supposed to and/or typically tend to write what they know, how do they write about the really tough, shitty, painful, abusive…or downright tragic and horrible things they’ve lived?

This is where I’m at with this new novel. I’m writing about some things that happened that were not ‘love’ fuelled. That were not redeeming or hopeful or passionate. And IT’S. NOT. EASY.

I am not writing another memoir.

I have chosen to fictionalize my story so I can tell it while being a bit separated – letting these characters I’ve created hold my story in their hands – away from me – so I can breathe and function as I’m sharing what happened. And to protect those people in my world who were there living it with me in real-life.

I’m finding two things:

1) I am avoiding the writing.

2) I am avoiding the research.

The truth is that I’m having to search far back into my past such that my memories are foggy or shattered or hiding altogether. And I am afraid of piecing them back together or finding them long enough to write them down. This is where the avoidance comes in.

And I have journals. Tens and tens of them that I can use as research tools to tell me exactly what happened in the past, in those moments…and how I felt about them…that I felt enough to write it all down. To record the darkness.

Did my younger self know that my older self would eventually want to re-visit those times? To heal them? To write about them? I don’t know.

But what I know is that something in me is ready to tell this story in a fictionalized way. And something in me knows that whether I search my memories or go directly to the source in the pages of journals I filled while I lived this story – the story is literally under my fingertips.

Lucky for me (and my characters…and essentially my healing journey), this novel is being written through a writing course I’m taking. That I’ve paid for. That has assignment deadlines that I have to make. So I can’t avoid my past forever. Or even close to forever. My assignment is due at the end of March.

There is research to be done even when you write what you know. When you write what you’ve lived. Especially if it’s a story that is pulled from your past. There is a difference between writing from what you know when writing what you know is an emotional state or way-of-being, and writing what you know because you live it or lived it. If you lived through cancer, how can you write about it without re-living the experience of it on some level? How scary would that be? And yet…how utterly freeing?

I’m in the ‘how scary would it be’ part of writing what I know. For now.

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