I was in this thing this past weekend. There was a session from a very lovely instructor with a very soothing voice about writing and self-care, writing as therapeutic. She read us a poem. It was very relaxing.
I appreciated it, because I know so many other people really needed it and are flocking to her classes now.
But…it was so, so Not My Thing.
I guess I’m a bit different. I’m not writing to fix myself, I’m writing to fuck myself up. I like to read writing that makes me uncomfortable and makes me think and haunts me long after I’ve finished reading it.
To write well in whatever genre you write in, you have to get underneath what happens in the book and tap into what happens within the characters. The external plot isn’t the book – it’s a vehicle to work out the internal conflict(s). And yes, it can be exhilarating and tense and fulfilling, but it’s not the story.
That’s why I don’t want to be soothed by what I read, or by what I write. I don’t need happy endings or neatly tied up storylines – I just want to feel like I went through something.
My work in progress walks on a tightrope of violence, both physical, and the type of mental violence that humans are so adept at inflicting on each other. It’s about good people doing bad things, and letting those bad things change them. It’s about a queer triangulation of desire between people, and between three choices: Resist, succumb, or walk away – and what you do when picking just one of those things isn’t an option.
And that’s a bit weird, considering that I’ve written before about how I like the calmness I’ve so carefully cultivated, how I’m not looking for adventure and passion and a large, loud life.
That’s probably why I like my writing to fuck me up. I’d rather do it quietly than spew it out all over the place. You can always put a book down.
And anyway, who knows how to fuck you up better than you?
I need to feel like the writing process is actually fucking me up – not healing things, but ripping things open, because that’s how I get to the story underneath the events, to the why underneath the what and the how.
I’m not saying everyone should write this way, but if a story doesn’t profoundly bother me, then I can’t write it well. If it’s not keeping me up nights and spawning half a dozen angsty Spotify playlists, then I lose interest. I need to poke my demons with a stick until they bite back and latch on.
I don’t write to soothe myself. I write because I’m compulsively unable to stop emotionally self-harming, and making it into a story puts it in a place that doesn’t spill out all over my neatly crafted boring little life, and lets me polish it up so that when/if it ever does go out to the world, it looks artistic instead of like raw mental sewage.
If this sounds dark…perhaps it is, but we all have our dark sides. Dumping mine into my work allows me to walk around botanic gardens appreciating flowers, sit on the sidewalk with three katydids admiring them and the world that made them, find joy in music and solitude and colors and libraries and all the little, simple things that amuse and uplift me.