Emotions: A Writer’s Best Fuel

Feelings suck sometimes, especially the bad ones.

 

They mess with your head, with your confidence, with your optimism. They can wreck havoc in as little as a few minutes, and if left unattended they will rain disappointment and frustration over your head like a cartoon cloud.

 

They are also good, necessary, even if you hate them all the more for it.

 

Last month I went to the San Francisco Writers Conference, and one piece of advice I received there made me reconsider how I handle these bad feelings. I was told to ask myself the following question:

 

What can you pull out of yourself to infuse into your characters and make them come alive?

 

That was followed by a simple sentence: When you don’t know what to use, look in the closet, look in that dark corner of yourself, where all your worst fears, all your weaknesses and reality distortions live.

 

Lately I’ve been struggling with my confidence as a writer. It’s funny how the sites I visit and the blogs I read say nothing about how to deal with your worst fear, your worst nightmare, that part of yourself that will bring you down with criticism and negativity no matter how hard you try to shun it away.

 

The thing is, as writers we shouldn’t shun our emotions away, no matter how dark and terrifying they might be. Feelings, especially the dark ones, the ones full of doubt and apprehension, are the ones that tend to inspire us more. They come from that part of our souls we often disregard, that part that shrinks away from painful experiences of the past, that part that sees itself like a fragile child.

 

And that is why we should use them. Because they show us our true identity, without modification, without lies, raw and open. This is what connects us to others, what gives us the fire we need to create memorable stories, relatable characters, and emotional bonds that will leave readers breathless and forever changed.

 

Feelings suck sometimes, they suck big time, especially the bad ones. But without them our writing would be shallow, unimportant, fleeting; like so many other things in life.

 

In the following months I will be sharing with you little nuggets of wisdom I learned at the writers’ conference last month, starting with this quote by YA author Olivia Rivers:

 

“Write what you know because without it you have no fire between your words.”

 

Ponder those words for a minute…Now ask yourself the following questions:

 

 What do you know?
What makes you angry, wounded, anxious?
What are you afraid of?
What is your worst nightmare?
What can you use from your dark closet to make your characters come alive?

 

Our inner closets are filled with experiences, with feelings, dark and terrifying, sad, depressing, and sometimes too painful to even glimpse at. This is where our power as writers lie, where the fire of our words resides, where the magic comes alive to create something beautiful, something transforming, not just for us, but also for those who read what we have to say.

 

Use them, embrace what you find inside, and don’t be afraid to feel.

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Emotions: A Writer’s Best Fuel

  1. So true, Melissa. We have to use that darkness to fuel our writing, and also to grow as human beings, don’t we? It’s so tough to do; I find myself always wanting to shy away from the worst of my own nature, let alone of the darkest dark that people are capable of. Here’s to deeper, richer, writing!

  2. Writing what you know also involves writing what you read. If you read a lot of say… epic fantasy, attempting to write hard science fiction isn’t going to go well. The rhythms and beats are different.

    As far as using emotions go, they’re excellent ways to show, and not tell. The best tool I found for helping me write emotions has been the Emotion Thesaurus. I hope you like it.

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