Jul 8, 2014

Self-Awareness and Writing Emotion

It's kind of funny to me that I'm a writer who actually gets paid to write now. If you'd asked me five years ago if I'd ever be able to do that, I would probably have said no--even though I wanted to. Ten years ago? I would have definitely said no, nothing anyone would read.

My negative outlook wasn't linked to my dyslexia. It wasn't because I didn't think I could write in an entertaining fashion--even ten years ago I was certain I could tell an entertaining story. At least from an external point of view. It was the internal stuff that threw me.

I know why this is now. I am an atypical girl.
  • I hate shoes. I've been known to wear sandals in the snow. Once I forgot to wear shoes to work...(which is another story...)
  • I only carry a handbag so I have somewhere safe to keep my ereader. 
  • I loathe Lifetime/Hallmark Channel Christmas movies(or well, just in general you can't make me watch those channels). 
  • In summer, I will walk in the rain without an umbrella even when I'm not feeling sad(people only walk in the rain in movies when they're sad.)

Also? I don't like examining my feelings about anything. And holy crap, if you make me talk about my feelings? Conversation will go down hill fast--I'm doing good if I can string ten words together. I prefer the most generic words possible to describe my emotional state(I know it's like social camouflage, and I don't care!).

I'm good.
I'm okay. 
I'm bleh... 

If anyone wants to explore these generic words with me, I can probably filter it down another level and give bare details to explain whatever upset me... But if the person I'm speaking with can't work out from this why I'm upset, any further digging will probably make me cry. It doesn't matter what the emotion is, if it's big and personal, I can't talk about it.

This is why therapy would be useless for me.(Which is not to say that I don't need it. I'm pretty sure I'm nuts, I just like to think it's a quirky, fun kind of crazy.)

This was also why I couldn't get deepDEEP inside the emotional state of my characters. I couldn't examine their feelings because I didn't even examine my own feelings. So I didn't have a clear point of comparison for anything. I didn't have better words than the generic ones.

I didn't start digging deeper until I wrote the book that actually sold. It isn't autobiographical by any stretch, but I used a lot of things from my life... Enough that everything felt familiar, I didn't have to stretch to understand the characters. But in the first couple drafts, I didn't stretch hard enough to describe/depict those emotions. Not until my editor made me do it. I resisted. Good lord, I resisted. I love reading romance(especially stories with THE ANGSTS!), but my unsold drafts were full of glancing blows at emotion. Riddled with jokes that kept the characters and ME from having to look too closely at what we were feeling.

Which brings me to the point of this post: I've been judging an unpublished RWA contest, and all my entries have so many good things to say about them: good writing, warm voices, interesting situations... But a couple of them have characters I wanted to love but could not connect with. The writer didn't dig deep enough.

In the past, I've been advised to think of a similar situation in my life to what the character is facing, and relive those emotions while writing a scene. But that never helped me. Invariably, my reliving the past involved me thinking about how at the time I didn't want to think about the bad thing that was happening!

Getting emotion on the page is more about your own Self-Awareness than anything related to writing. You have to understand yourself before you can ever try to understand other people.(Quick Note: Sympathy and Empathy are not interchangeable. They're different. Ask Uncle Google to explain. I know I've banged the Empathy Drum before, but writers need strong Empathy, and that starts with understanding yourself.)

The only way I know to do that is by examining your memories and all the messy bits attached to them.
And I don't mean just think about it, I mean wallow. Open that metaphorical vein and let that sucker bleed. Do NOT apply pressure or try to staunch the flow. If it doesn't hurt,  you haven't cut deeply enough.

The only way you'll ever understand other people(especially imaginary people who spring from your crazybrain) is to understand yourself(and your crazybrain). I know that sounds like New-Agey Woo-Woo talk, but...some professions lend themselves to the Woo-Woo talk.
Because I love craft books, and there are some truly excellent(and even mind-blowing) writing books about emotion out there, please let me recommend: