I believe that writing is just as good – if not better – than any therapy I’ve ever received, and I’ve had my share of therapy over the years. I’ve seen counsellors mostly for the hard stuff, like the death of my mother, dealing with family trauma, separating from my husband, etc…
But weaving these traumas can be useful for writing.
When you hand your pain over to a character, you can let all that anger, grief, denial, etc free. It can feel like a weight has been lifted.
I read a novel recently titled THE LAST LOVE NOTE by Emma Grey. She writes beautifully about grief. As I was reading the novel, my own novel, THE DECISIONS WE MAKE, resurfaced in my mind. I, too, write about grief, writing about the loss of family members in all forms, and how it affects those left behind. I’ve woven this into a couple of my novels now because I’ve learned that grief is different for everyone, and writing about it can help you understand and empathise with others.
It took me a while to recognise that I weave my personal traumas into my writing.
When writing my first novel, BENEATH THE SURFACE, I wrote about one of my own traumatic experiences without realising I was doing it. I couldn’t understand why I felt so heavy as I typed out the words. I felt distraught and, ultimately, depressed. I was writing about a parental relationship, and while the main storyline wasn’t mine, some of the emotional elements were. I used my own experiences to bring out what the character was feeling – love and attachment, but also guilt, shame, and helplessness. And, ultimately, the overwhelming feeling to flee.
In another novel, I wrote about not only my own empty nest, but also my mother’s experience of having her last (*favourite*) child leave home.
The year after I moved away, my mother took an English class at the local high school. In one of her assignments, she wrote a letter to me about how she was feeling my absence. She wrote about the empty cork board in my bedroom being a reflection of her heart, when it was filled with images of Tom Cruise, pinned concert tickets, sketches I’d drawn, and dream lists. She wrote about my stuffed animals sitting on the bed, they’re longing for a hug. She wrote about her sadness of childhood days gone by, as I was her last to leave home. And she wrote of her dreams for me. I found the assignment after she died. (She got an A, by the way.)
When my own daughter left home to go to university, I was sad that her childhood was over, but I was happy for her too. She had a bright future and I was relieved to know her rollercoaster childhood would be behind her. But, I was different from my own mother in how I dealt with the empty nest. As she began her new chapter, so did I, donating all but the sentimental, then packing the car to travel full time.
All of this was useful for a storyline.
People often ask me if I’m just fictionalising my own story.
When writing my latest novel, a friend asked me if I realised I’d written my own childhood abandonment into the storyline. She is an early reader, one I have used and trusted over the years. By the time she pointed it out, I had already knew what was happening, and I was using it to my advantage. But what I didn’t realise – and what she pointed out – was the antagonist was based on a family member. (After the character was much easier to write! LOL!)
I had a friend once say to me: “Girl, you need to write this shit down, because no one is going to believe it’s true anyway.” There’s that. I have had an interesting life so far, with a lot of ‘plot twists’. And, in truth, there has been lot of my story in my novels. But they are all fiction. At least the main elements are.
But I have encompassed things from my own life. Things like: Looking for what’s next, after a divorce. Giving a voice to a relation’s abusive marriage. Gaslighting. Questioning whether to have a baby. Questioning the doctrines of a religion. Emotional trauma from parental figures. Dealing with a colleague’s DUI while on a business trip, only for an advancement in their career shortly after (w-w-what?! How?!). Depression. Asking yourself if your marriage can be saved, if only you looked at it from a different perspective. Sexual harassment. Tapping into one’s creative self. Breaking away from judgements of society. Living in a city and feeling alone. Abandonment by family members. Moral bankruptcy of family members. Suicide. The list goes on.
All of it is great fodder for a novel – or ten.
I mean, why wouldn’t you use your own experiences?
“They” say, write what you know, after all. And, as I do that, the less heartache I feel and the more healed I am.
Photo credit: Aaron Burden/Unsplash