Cathartic Writing: Where to Turn for Advice on How to Turn Your Personal Demons into Story Gold

Writing comes from a very personal place and many writers agree that the process is an isolated one. Tapping into our own experiences when composing stories can, at times, take us to some pretty dark places. Cathartic writing is a way to unleash pent up emotions while at the same time creating potential ideas for characters and stories, but how much of ourselves should we put into our writing? Is creating a character much like ourselves a good idea when writing a novel, or does it just lead to awkwardness and self-aggrandizement? Can we remain objective and develop a plot successfully if we are personally connected to the events?

Personally, I think all writers should put a little of themselves into their stories. In fact, I’m not sure there is any way around having some of ourselves enter into our writing. Writers have often heard the old advice: “Write what you know.” Cathartic writing, such as journaling or blogging, can often lead to some great ideas, but sometimes those ideas can get lost in the shuffle. Maybe they don’t come across as well as we would like because we are too close to the subject matter to be truly objective. Can exorcising our personal demons morph into a great story, or will it just come off sounding like an overly-exposed therapy session? Who can we turn to for advice on this subject?

My answer: Stephen King. Stephen King is one of those writers who explores his dark side resulting in some fantastic storytelling. I highly recommend his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. This book contains a lot of stories about his life and how those life experiences have shaped his writing. He is a man who successfully uses writing to overcome some of the personal demons with which he struggles. This book is a great guide for those writers considering using their cathartic writing to generate their own stories.

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Tragically Exclamatory!!!!!

Punctuation Pyramid
Image by tgbarrett via Flickr
My pseudonym is M. Jaynes and I have a problem!

I’ve pontificated on punctuation previously. My sojourn into the comma conundrum was cathartic. This time, it is my over-use of the exclamation point in casual correspondence that has become increasingly disturbing to me. Oh, it started innocently enough. I joined Facebook and it seemed the “in” punctuation to use. So I picked up the habit and ran with it. Not an e-mail escaped the send button without an unhealthy dose of the emotionally overcharged “Thank you!” or “Good Morning!” Salutations should be heart-felt, but rarely is there a situation where the addition of six or seven exclamation points is called for. And it didn’t stop there. In my fevered brain it made perfect sense to add dramatic punctuation to such sentences as: “I have a trivial meeting after school today!” or in notes to far away friends, “I miss you!!!!!!”
Now, every time I write “thank you” without an exclamation point, I worry that the person receiving the message will think that my sentiments are lukewarm. Maybe it is my OCD brain that has caused this to become an issue but I swear nowadays when I write an e-mail it is so peppered with that infernal mark that I feel like a raving lunatic!
Addicts always try to blame others first, so here goes: I blame Facebook for initiating this habit. Prior to signing up, I hardly ever used that form of punctuation, even when I felt strongly about something. I was blissfully unaware of my issue while on Facebook because it seemed everyone else was on board with being exclamatory. Since bidding a not-so-fond farewell to that particular social networking scene, it has slowly dawned on me that I have a problem with this punctuation. Right now as I type this it is all I can do not to add a few more in here and there. And as one who loves books, I am quite certain that if I came across a novel that used exclamation points as frivolously as I have, I would think the author mad and discontinue reading. I need help! It is driving me crazy! I suppose it could be worse. Instead of exclamatory, I could be interrogative. How would that go over I wonder? Do I really want to open that can of worms? Should I end this blog here?

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Writer’s Block Is Not Terminal

Writer's Block

Writer’s Block is not terminal although it certainly does feel that way when you are in the middle of  one.   Deemphasizing the block and increasing your awareness of when you are in an optimal writing zone is key to unlocking your block.  If you haven’t been in a successful writing zone for a while, consider one or more of the following:

Extreme Makeover: Create an environment that will signal clearly you are in a “Writing Construction Zone.”  This may include a special room or location in your home, a reserved room in the library or someplace else, special music, or wearing a favorite shirt, etc.   Author Maya Angelou accomplishes this by renting a hotel room for a day. She carries a writer’s tool box with her that includes things like her favorite glass of sherry , Roget’s Thesaurus and The Bible.  She creates an environment that signals to her, it’s time to get serious about writing.  You cannot copy an environment.  Rather, it’s important to create your own and know what gets you going.

Block off time on your calendar for writing.  Similar to exercising, muscles are developed as a result of consistency in your habits.  It is hard to stick to a haphazard schedule and getting back on track after slacking off for any period of time is tough. Writing is very similar.  It is a muscle that has to be developed.  Try to stick as close as you can to a fixed writing schedule and play it towards your strengths.  For ex. I prefer writing in the mornings and also create mini deadlines because the pressure of a fixed timeline fits with my working style and keeps me on task.

Just write. Write about things that you are passionate about to get your juices flowing.   We far too often get stuck because we allow our mind to fast forward in advance.  We are afraid of the end product before the first word is penned.   We worry that it will not turn out perfectly or we are overly analytical questioning which direction to take the piece or a character.  Just write.    It may not turn out perfectly but you can’t improve anything if it isn’t written down. 

Sleep your way to the top.  Getting plenty of rest each night will ensure a super sharp and clear mind. Increasing your sleeping by just 1.5 hours will increase your alertness by 32% according to a WebMD feature.

Surround yourself with other people that are jazzed about and value writing.  You will be amazed at how your writing will grow leaps and bounds and sharpen over time just by being actively involved with others that share a common interest.  I’m a part of a writing group and I’ve learned more from this group than I did all of those expensive english classes my parents paid dearly for me to attend.
So, the next time you find yourself in a block. Be honest about where you are and don’t allow yourself to stay in this space too long. “Easy reading is damn hard writing. “ Writer’s Block may find itself appearing in your home; think of it as a pop quiz and a gift to assess what needs to change to get you back in your groove. I would love to hear your thoughts about your writing blocks and how you get through them.  Please post your tips or experiences below.

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