Friday, December 01, 2006

Write what you know

This has been a rough week for me, with the one bright spot of finishing my book and sending it off to New York. Because the same day I finished it, the wife of a friend I went to high school with passed away, leaving my friend and two school-age children.

At the visitation, I embraced my friend and whispered something about epiphanies, because we used to joke about that all the time in high school. Then I stepped back and found myself completely overwhelmed with grief, so much so, I couldn't speak. The words would not come. My throat was tight, my body numb.

Yesterday, after a nearly sleepless night and then the funeral, when I was home and wrapped up in an afghan in my living room, I found myself trying to remember exactly how I felt when I was overcome by emotion. And then I realized this is probably something that separates writers from non-writers. I suspect non-writers want to try to forget those feelings. Or at least not dwell. But writers want to remember, not out of some ghoulish delight, but so the next time we have a character in a similar situation, we'll be better able to describe that feeling. To make it more real.

I know some writers like to think writers are more sensitive, more emotional and/or more passionate. That we feel things more deeply. I disagree, because I think that implies that other people don't feel things as deeply, or aren't as passionate. I'm sure they do, and are.

However, at its core, a writer's work is about emotions, whatever one writes. So part of our job is to try to figure out how to describe and relate emotions. How to show them, not tell them. How to make them sound true and real without being melodramatic.

As another writer friend of mine once put it, it's not that we feel more or more deeply, we just articulate it better.

Or we try to. I'll probably never be able to fully express what I felt standing before my friend that night.

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