Yes, ok, I know it’s a corny phrase but somehow it struck some never before considered nerve in the mass of gelatinous grey sponge that is floating its way around in the bone casing at the top of my spine. As much I it pains me to admit that I watch it, I heard it on FOX TVs series, “The Following” the other day. I do not agree with the 28k odd people who gave the show a 7.7 rating on IMDB – at a push, I’d give it a 6 and I would need a serious push and possibly a bribe on the side. Beyond the gratuitous violence and fascination of waiting to see what some cameo actress psycho bitch is going to do next, I really have no idea why I am watching it. Game of Thrones, or Dexter it definitely is not!
Now, back to the full comment: “I am processing those feelings using the therapy of words!” I know. Just hang in there, barf bags at the exit. However, once I managed to hold down supper, the question I immediately asked myself was, “Do I write for therapeutic reasons?” Do we use our writing not only as a way to tell a story but also as a way to get that proverbial chip off our shoulder or cement block off our chests? Is this idea exclusive or can one write for multiple reasons?
As frequent readers of my blog may have guessed, I am still new to this writing game and I have come nowhere near finding my voice or the magical 10k hours/million word mark – yet. One of the things that has been nagging me is the fact that I have come the realisation that to be able to put anything of any merit on the proverbial blank piece of paper, I need to open up and tear down the internal walls that I have spent the last 39 years building. This is probably going to be my greatest challenge and to be honest with you random strangers (and a few friends), I have serious doubts as to my ability to achieve this. Sure, I will eventually build up the skills required to write something (hopefully not too awful), but being able to put my heart into what I write or make it touch the reader, I feel I would have to draw on my past experiences and emotions in a far deeper way than just recalling them from behind a bulletproof piece of plexiglass. Reliving and re-evaluating things I have long since dumped in File 13 fills me with no small amount of dread. I am going to need more than a little therapy of words to manage that.
Franz Kafka, once quoted, “Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.” The cold abyss of oneself. Maybe I will be lucky enough to come up with an original phrase or two like that in what’s left of my life on this mud ball. I am not sure about you dear reader, but looking that deeply into my own abyss is not something that I take lightly. We all spend our lives suppressing things that we either don’t like, regret or can never do or never re-live. It’s mostly the baser, darker desires that tempt us but sometimes regrets and opportunities that have passed us by or even poignant moments wonderful yet difficult to relive. Come on, be honest, at least with yourself. Unless you are the next Mother Teresa or Dali Lama (and I am sure they have had their own demons) I figure there are likely to be some stranger parts to your own abyss that you would rather no-one knew about. In medieval times, without the strict rules and morals of modern society enforced, how many of us would have ended up as bandits, warmongers and generally unpleasant peons watching out for number one? How many of us would have succumbed to the age-old phrase of “might makes right“? I figure I could find plenty of grist for the old writing mill in shelved away behind fireproof doors somewhere in the back of my mind. Wish I could only recall the positive things and use those but one cannot open the door and still be selective about what gets out.
My wife says I am happier trying to write (unsuccessfully so far) than I have ever been working successfully in the corporate world. There are definitely moments when I feel this is true but is the simple action of writing a contributing factor of my happiness? Or does my happiness require more? Have I been subconsciously putting myself through my own private little therapy sessions or is the fact that I am writing enough?
Let me get it out in the open. Yes I have been to therapy. Not quite the cliché leather couch in a wood panelled study with some old Freud looking plaid character and cottage pane windows overlooking a woodland park, but yes, I have had my brain examined through the mystery of words. Yes, I have enjoyed the fruits of the SSRI tree and felt like an observer watching my life float by with a smile. Happy drugs aside, was there any value in my experience? Well, as cynical as I am, I would have to say that it did make me ask questions of myself that I had never thought to ask before. You know, the simple ones that you ignore most of your life because they are too simple or you thought you had the answers for and then one day a quiet-mannered man with a tattered notebook and scuffed loafers asks them and you struggle to answer in your usual glib way. A day or two later, when it sinks in, you realise, (sometimes with regret but not always), what may have been had you taken the time to think about them a decade or more earlier. So yes, I figure therapy has worked for me.
Although I have never been one to keep a journal of any kind, when I have been in a particularly bad space I have always written my thoughts down, never intending them for anyone other than myself. This has been a mechanism for me to sort through my thoughts and is my own form of mental healing. Somehow seeing my words in black and white has always helped me sort them out. Perhaps, yes, this is one version of a “therapy of words”. However, this kind of writing is infrequent (thankfully), sparked by strong emotion and is so exhausting that I’d be a basket case if I wrote with this fervour on a daily basis.
Does creative writing serve the same purpose? How would writing about fantastical creatures and make-believe worlds provide this kind of therapeutic outlet? Ignoring for a moment, the process and craft of writing (and the fact that I am working on realising a lifelong dream), do we put enough of ourselves into our characters and scenes that these become ways for us to work through our own demons and desires? Does the romance novelist use her work as a means to escape the possibility that, in the real world, she may never be whisked off by a rich bronzed Adonis to a mansion on a private island in the sun to live happily ever after? Does the crime novelist, pour the darkest thoughts of his mind into the serial killer stalking children in Central Park? Is the author who writes about an axe wielding barbarian standing defiant before the immortal horde just trying to live the life he would never be able to realise or be the hero he dreams of being? Or is this all just the simple imaginings that we, as writers, are better able to translate into believable words than the average person? So much for that writers advice that says we should write what we know – that would be saying every writer is a potential Don Juan or Hannibal Lecter in the making.
Obviously I am no serial murderer enjoying free boarding from the state so my grist would need a little creative license, but do writers use their creative writing as an outlet for what ails them inside? I can understand someone writing about a personal pain through a character and using this as a way to deal with their own real life loss but is this really chicken soup for the soul? I am willing to concede that there are poets and songwriters who would definitely confirm that this is true for their work, but is that true for us writers?
Lets say I do embrace my emotions and use writing as an outlet for the frustrations of modern bottled up life. Lets say it makes me happy to do this and keeps me sane. Would this “writing therapy” improve the writing (I am talking about creative writing here)? Or would the excess of emotion the writer feels affect the quality of the work? Like being in a rage and trying to string a decent series of well thought out rebuttals at taxi driver who has just sideswiped your car.
I have already found that my writing is lacking true emotion. Sure, it’s got plot, pace, characters and all the other qualities that I am trying to include but I do not feel attached to any of the characters. I do not like or even dislike any of them and it’s almost as if I am at arm’s length from all from my own creations rather than feeling their love, anger and courage. I want to write scenes with characters like old Druss, the Captain of the Axe, standing poisoned and wounded, hardly able to swing his mighty weapon yet somehow having the courage to spit into Deaths face one last time. I want to write characters that people will remember and curse me for killing off in book 2. I want to create scenes that the reader can almost taste and touch. I want to write books about heroes that make the reader silently cheer on their success. Ok ok, I am getting carried away here. I write Fantasy, not some literary Pulitzer material but still.
I have gone off on a tangent here, but to string it all tenuously together, I do believe that writing is a kind of therapy – indirectly forcing me to delve into parts of myself that I have suppressed and in releasing this in a very specific and controlled manner, I hope that I will be able to write something one day that will elicit an emotional response from a reader rather than a few hours of pleasant yet forgettable distractions from the real world.