When I lived in Chicago, there were two science fiction conventions I would attend yearly: WindyCon in mid November and CapriCon in February (often falling on Valentine’s Day, which, depending on who you ask, can be a plus!) For those of you who have never been to a fan convention, they are typically a merry mix of die-hard aficionados, industry professionals, industry professionals who are die-hard aficionados, and die-hard aficionados who want to be industry professionals. They feature events such as film screenings, art contests, a masquerade for people to show off their costumes and compete for awards, and panels on various topics, where panelists talk and debate and take questions from the audience.
One panel I attended was on how writers sustain motivation to write. The writers on the panel all had different perspectives and tactics, and the ensuing discussion was very interesting and informative. But the moment that sticks in my memory was a question from the audience: an aspiring writer asked how to keep writing when life is being difficult. In his case, his father had recently passed away after a long and painful illness, and all this man could do was stare at a blank computer screen.
One of the panelists answered immediately. He told us about how he lost his own father, watching him slowly kill himself with alcohol. How painful it was, seeing that happen to someone he loved, being powerless to stop it. How he survived, as a writer and as a person, is he wrote it down. All of it. And that was his advice to this aspiring writer: write it all down. Don’t try to push all that pain and fear and doubt away, turn it into words and pour it out onto the page. Don’t worry about trying to shape it into something that will be seen by anybody but you. Just write.
We all have our demons, our own pain and fear and doubt, and for those of us who are writers, this advice is very important. My first instinct is to push the darkness away, ignore it, try to write something else, but that’s not doing right by myself or my writing. Writing is therapy in that way, a vital tool for understanding, facing, and dealing with difficult situations, and I recommend it to everyone, even people who would not otherwise think of themselves as writers.
For people who are writers, though, powerful emotion is vital for powerful fiction. Even if the situations we write about are not autobiographical, the emotion often is, and that is what makes our stories real. There’s a saying that if there are no tears in the writer, there are no tears in the reader. This is true of all emotion. If you want your reader to feel grief, fear, elation, ardour, you must first feel it yourself.
My husband calls this “getting your Irish on.” The Irish are rightfully known for their amazing poetry (my favorite poet, by far, is Yeats, and I often reread his poem “The Circus Animals’ Desertion” when I need a refresher on beauty of language and conciseness of expression) but it stems from a history of suffering. Their words grip our hearts because life gripped their hearts first.
So allow yourself to feel sorrow or joy, to the very depths of your being. Then get your Irish on.