Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Catharsis of Writing

Why do we writers write? For as many of us as there are, there could be an equal number of reasons. However, we would likely find some interesting “overlaps” that, while tinged with a degree of uniqueness, bind us together. What might those be? Personal experiences, of course, and, by extension, experiences of others around us.

It has been said that we should write about the things we know. Why? Our works will then come across as credible, authoritative. In other words, our readers will believe that what we say is probable . . . or at least possible. This is as true in fiction as it is in nonfiction. As an editor, I’ve worked with writers to “fix” impossible situations such as fight scenes, escapes, time frames, and a host of others that couldn’t happen unless at least one of the characters is a clone of Superman.

How can we translate “what we know” into a great storyline? And what will make our experiences interesting, believable, and perhaps even helpful to others? Honesty. Emotions. Heart. Many of our experiences may have been stressful—even painful—and more than a few of them may still be lurking deep within us. Feelings Buried Alive Never Die, a book by Karol K. Truman, addresses the effects that repressed feelings can have on our physical health and our general well-being. Well, guess what! We writers have a built-in relief valve for our feelings—good, bad, or indifferent—if only we will open it up and let them flow.

Journaling has been recommended for people who need to vent their feelings. But for those with a penchant for book writing, that flow can take a circuitous route through the characters in our stories. Have we experienced the death of a loved one? a marriage turned sour? estrangement from parents, children, or siblings? loss of a dear friend? financial reversal? termination of employment? a forced change in lifestyle? an unwanted move? miscarriage of a longed-for baby? a lost love? These are the threads that weave the fabric of our lives. They are also the threads that weave the lives of others—our readers.

When we first tap into these feelings hidden inside us and begin to write, our anger may erupt like a long-dormant volcano that spews molten lava from deep within its churning bowels. But as we self-edit, rewrite, and rewrite again, we shape and tweak our anger, our pain, our anguish to fit our stories and our characters. With what result? Our readers are often affected by the intensity of our writing, the authenticity of our emotions, our ability to reach out and touch their hearts. Our stories ring true because—no matter how we’ve changed them—they essentially are true. And as a bonus, something special happens for us. The festering wound that ruptured and burst forth from our innards begins to heal. We can stand back and look at our pain through the eyes of our character(s), and as they find resolution, we can also.

Have you ever dealt with a difficult or painful issue through your characters? If you have, and if you are comfortable doing so, will you share some aspect of that experience with us?

Linda Lane is a writer/editor/publisher. You can visit her Web site at


  1. Great post. I certainly agree. When we tap into those feelings deep within us, our best writing often pours out.

  2. I loved your post! It is so true that we writers have built-in relief for our feelings- good or bad. I put my pains, disappointments, heartaches and dashed hopes within my characters. While they experience the same heart wrenching I have experienced(with different situations) I stay true to writing what I know. Do you also consider that being true to oneself as a writer?

  3. I like this post, Linda. I've read books that expose their authors' pain. They can be helpful...or uncomfortable. I haven't been brave enough to write my own traumas into a story. It think it would be very difficult.

  4. The book I wrote for my MFA thesis was practically an autobiography. I took a lot of pieces from my life, like my love of writing and the cathartic nature of it for me and my volatile relationship with my dad, to develop that story. It took a lot of journaling to get real life stories and feelings down. Then it took a lot of thinking and organizing of the book so that the real life components fit into a work of fiction.

    Great post!


  5. Yes, M.J., I do consider the sharing of our pain to be one facet of our being true to ourselves as writers. However, this does not imply that authors who choose not to share their pain through their characters are any less true to themselves. As long as we don't violate who we are with our stories, we can go to bed each night with a clean conscience and dream of the next novel we want to write.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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