Two days ago, I was struggling to write about Lenore Winstead (from Fall of the Sparrows) recalling the death of her husband. I was at school working this scene, coming up with the most stereotypical emotions. I just wrote and wrote, not really feeling emotionally attached.
On that very day I came home and asked my younger sister where my younger brother was. She told me he’d been in bed all day long. That pushed the alarm button for me. I went into his room, it was pitch black. I sat by his side and rested my hand on his shoulder. He was feverish and trembling slightly…
As I don’t live with my knowledgeable parents I was left to think the worst—especially after listening to his small voice explaining to me how his throat was all swollen and it pained him to swallow. I was afraid to leave his side, worrying that his throat would swell to the point of being unable to call for my name!
(Before I go on, maybe I should explain that his fever was due to his having caught the chickenpox and his trembling was due to to the fact that my hand was resting on the back of his shoulder, feeling the resounding thump of his steadily beating heart. I took him to the doctor yesterday morning–all is well).
Now, to the writing bit. The dread and concern I experienced offered me a glimpse of what my heroine must have felt: To watch her husband dying while realizing that she had loved, but had not loved well. And then to wonder why it is only when a dear one is in their most vulnerable state that we realize we had not loved them enough.
And so I’m coming to learn more and more that through the variety of hardship experienced—whether it be minor or major—it turns out that hardship allows a writer to deeper understand what they write about: Life, love and death.
Hardship, for me, is the period in which my sensitivity is at its peak. I feel great things because my heart is open and vulnerable. And much of what I write during these times is where my best writings come from.
Hardship, for me, is an opportunity. An opportunity to learn and grow.
Deeper insight into life is like breathing life into a once one-dimensional character.
Have you ever had a similar experience where you suddenly found yourself inside the shoe of a character you were writing about?
Writing Udate: I’m sweating blood with Fall of the Sparrows. Revising this story was going well until I reached the point in the story where I was just overwhelmed. Though the first draft is complete, I need to rewrite a lot. So, why was I overwhelmed?
1) The story is dark–and not just dark, PITCH BLACK.
2) The story later revolves around a controversial issue that leaves me low spirited.
3) I realized that this story had overstepped and escaped from the genre I’ve always been writing in: Romance. FOTS is more of a general fiction, as the story’s focus is mainly on the broken father/son relationship.
And so I find myself glancing longingly back at The Runaway Courtesan. For this story, I know what needs to be improved, I love the characters, I know what genre it belongs to, and importantly, this story isn’t as dark and heavy. But then I’m worried that if I start working on TRC I’ll lose touch with all the surge of inspiration for FOTS.
Don’t get me wrong. I love, love FOTS. But I’m wondering if this project isn’t a bit too ambitious for me. And I’m also wondering whether I’m just being a moron by shrinking away from the challenge presented to me by FOTS.
So, I’m totally divided here and would love some advice.
21 thoughts on “Writing Tip: Live, Learn, Record”
wait…you have a younger sister too and she and your younger brother are living with you?? Hope he gets better soon
I wouldn’t say that it’s too ambitious of you, just that you’re growing as a writer and are ready to tackler larger …challenges? (that’s not the word I want to use but my brain’s fried right now)
Yah, my parents live abroad so I take care of them. Actually, sometimes my sister takes care of me because I hate cooking and would rather starve. Yah, writing, it does that.
I guess I am growing. And with all growth spurts there’s that accompanying pain. *sigh* I don’t like tackling much…but…maybe it’ll pay off in the end… grrr…still thinking. I have the two manuscripts open on my screen right now.
ha…lucky..I have reports and essays open >_<
Hmm I don’t think there’s such a thing as “too ambitious” when it comes to exploring a new story. It’d probably be nice to just sit back and let your story unfold without worrying *too* much about audience and etc. – somethings overthinking sort of kills the creative flow, and definitely most of the fun.
How long haven’t you touched TRC? It might be a good idea to let it “simmer” for a VERY long time – you’ll approach it with a much more mature perspective. 🙂
Interesting question by the way 🙂 There are a few characters who go through what I’ve experienced, but most of them take only small bits of me from time to time – I try to think of them as separate people, not “reflections of myself” (or they’ll all start sounding like me… I don’t need them to sound any more homogeneous!)
Oddly enough for me, one of the characters that I sympathize with the most is the pianist-killer I mentioned in wrUT. I may never go through the extremities he suffered, but the fact that he could no longer play music or see the world “purely” – because of revenge, hatred, crime, etc. – i think relates a lot to my own musical development. I’ve had a series of events in my own life (none violent though) that frankly ruined music for me. So we’re both kind of unrealized, or silent, unable to voice our own expressions.
*ruined* is a strong word. Maybe more like “distanced music from me”. 😀
Yah, you’re right. I should let TRC simmer for a while longer!
That pinaist-killer always fascinated me… it’s intriguing concept really and I’d love to see where you go with it!
I’m sorry. 😦 I hope your brother gets well soon. Make sure he doesn’t scratch, it may seem like a relief, but in the long run its worse and it might scar if he scratches too hard.
Nothing’s ever too ambitious when it comes to writing. Who knows editting TRC might give you the inspiration you need when it comes to the romantic aspect of FOTS.
He’s much better now!
You’re right! Nothing is ever too ambitious!!!
I hope your brother makes a quick recovery. If I get a bug bite cold water helps soothe the itch, perhaps it might be the same for chicken pox?
I’ve sketched a character whose experienced something I’ve gone through and sometimes try to be like an actor and imagine living the moment as the character when I write it.
bug bite cold water? I actually never heard of that one. Will check it out the next time i drop by the pharmisist!
Oh that’s great–trying to BE the character when you write. I think I need to do this. I’m sure it’s an awesome technique!
Yuck, chicken pox! I got chicken pox when I was five and had to give up my part of Mary in the Christmas pageant because–yes–I had chicken pox over Christmas. Hope your brother is better soon. I’ve heard oatmeal baths to relieve the itch (add finely ground oats to water…of course, then you feel like breakfast).
Good questions–I think I tend to draw on experiences that graze against what my characters experience, but of course they’re often far removed or far less serious than what my characters face. For the project I’m just starting, though, the character is married, and some of the everyday frustrations of marraige can be exploited to write her larger frustrations. Though that can be hard to explain–“yes, husband o’mine, I’m writing about an adulterous wench of a wife…of course I draw inpsiration from my life…no, I’m not cheating on you!” 😛
Good question about being too ambitious, too–I think this is never a bad thing. It makes you grow. If you only wrote TRCs…would you grow as a writer? Probably not–you’d write really great TRCs, but they’d never reach the new levels that you’re digging to here. My second project is waaaay more complicated than my first–makes me want to tear my hair out, but I know in my hear of hearts that it’s not only better, I learned so much more from it. I’m returning to a simpler mode for my third project and it’s actually hard to pare back 🙂
Oh that sucks! having to give up your role…. the fact that you still remember that occassion shows how disappointed you must have been!!!
Same here. Usually I take a past experience and magnify it by a hundred when I write. What I experienced is not always parallel to what my character experience.
Yah, you’re right. I shouldn’t fear that challenge–for it is through chalenges that we are writers grow!
“you’d write really great TRCs, but they’d never reach the new levels that you’re digging to here” You are so right. I need to write new BOOKS not new TRCs. I need to get through this project (FOTS) to prove to myself that I CAN do it.
Oh, dreadful chicken pox! Life experience is a writer’s greatest treasure (at least one of them). Just keep writing, June. After all…the darkest stories can bring the most light with them somehow.
“…the darkest stories can bring the most light with them somehow.” This was SO encouraging. Thank you so much
As far as I understand, you finished both, you’re just talking about editing, right?
First, there’s no such thing as “too ambitious” – you wrote the story. You might not be able to perfect it now, but it’s out there, so kudos to that.
My suggestion is move to… a third one, to take some distance from both. Then you can see both your novels with new eyes, and maybe even the “darker” one wouldn’t look so dark! 🙂
That’s a first–to move onto the third novel. It’s a great idea, methinks. I’d actually consider this (especially as I have another story idea in mind) but it seems I’m the sort of writer who needs to have the story somewhat polished in order to move on. Otherwise, I’m left haunted. But yah, that was a great suggestion. I can’t wait to complete this story so I can see what else I have up my sleeves!
I’m sorry to hear your brother is sick and I hope he feels better soon.
I agree with the other commenters that there’s no such thing as too ambitious. You’re probably just a little intimidated because you recognize it as new – but go ahead, tackle it. You can do it 🙂
He’s much, much better now!
And you’re right. There’s no such thing as being over ambitious–I’m just a little intimidated! I guess I’m just afraid of stepping out of my comfort zone.But I must if I want to grow as a writer 🙂
Thanks for dropping by!
Happens all the time. It’s actually very helpful in two ways. One is the way you describe, it helps you write that scene with a sense of realism. The other is that it helps you get all of your emotions out on paper. It’s therapeutic.
Many times, it is when the most tragic of circumstances happen that I write the best. A suicide, a death, terrible news, unfortunate happenings, etc. As writers we tend to shy away from the emotions of our characters and only “write” what they feel, instead of knowing the experience first hand.
In regards to your editing, sometimes, with a big project like that you have to take a break. A “mental vacation”, if you will. No writing, no thinking of plots or characters for an entire month. I’m halfway through mine now, and the first week was AWFUL!!! But now, I’m feeling refreshed and ready to go for the next round of editing. You can do it!