Shock Your Story: How to Write Again

During the days that spanned my mom’s hospitalization and subsequent death, I had trouble writing. I already had a story I’d been working on, something about a girl and an enchanted forest, that kept turning into a girl and her sick mother. Go figure. I guess this is an example where life and writing intersect to create mountains of headaches for us.

One of my writer’s weaknesses is that I succumb to trouble easily. Like I’m looking for an excuse to get out of this life sentence choice. Granted, losing my mom roughed me up, but that’s really no reason to take it out on my muse. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. Before I realized it, I started thinking that I can’t keep up this fight anymore. It’s too hard, it’s taking too long, and any talent I have I scrape from the bottom of a barrel.

Of course, a writer who doesn’t write is as bad off as a cat who doesn’t catnap.

You really don’t feel better by not writing, even when the writing isn’t working. If I thought things sucked before, they couldn’t compare to how they felt now that I had shunned my muse. Losing my mom was all I could think of, all that I felt. Everything and everyone became no more than a dull thud in my life.

Clearly, I had to get back to the writing, but how to do it when all I could think about was death and misery?

I killed off a character in my book.

One I hadn’t expected to die, and in fact, was pretty vital to the story in general.

Not only did my recklessness help take the book to unexpected places, but it got my muse scrambling to answer back. I’m not sure what the payoffs or the cons are to messing with the muse, but I can tell you this – it certainly livens up the party.

Or, maybe this was my muse’s plot to begin with, to get me back to work. My muse has been known to mess with me upon occasion.

Either way, the trick, I found, is to take (or allow your muse to take) your story off course. Force yourself out of the expected, the anticipated. Challenge yourself with something you cannot possibly ignore. Something that will refuse to let you sit at the pages and write by rote.

By shocking my story, I was able to channel the grief and overpowering sense of loss into creative energy. Even better, the fact I could focus on the story during “writing time” allowed me to take the opportunity to think of and miss my mom in more appropriate moments.

Now, I’m not saying I can turn the sadness on and off like a beer tap, because the sadness is always there, a film across my days. But, when sadness is the only feeling I have, it carves deep grooves in my soul where the self-doubt festers.

Feeling only sadness was okay (acceptable) in the days following her death. I wasn’t even trying to write anything then, anyway. But it was that empty, hollow time after, when my brothers and cousins and family friends returned to their own lives, that the sorrow started to beat me up. And, that’s not okay.

I needed to feel things other than the sadness, not just so I could write, for crap’s sake, but so I could take joy in my children again, indulge in the beauty of autumn, gear up for the holidays, enjoy my son’s soccer championship win, sleep through the night, relax with a good book, and anything else that makes up your average-Joe day.

If you’re one of those people who can salvage your creativity during tough times, feel blessed and more power to you. But, if you can’t, if the heavy emotions make you want to give up, then shock your muse back into action –

because muses like to have the last word.

 

What about you? Have you ever tried to shock your story? How did your muse take it? Do you take catnaps?

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39 thoughts on “Shock Your Story: How to Write Again

  1. I am far too sensitive and overreact to anything, both internal and external trouble and turmoil, so it is difficult at times to find the peace and headspace to write continuously. These brief spurts of concentration and shock work well for poetry, but not for a novel in my case. Good and thoughtful post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m the same way, Marina. I think that’s why it took me so long to figure out how to separate life from writing, so that when I did sit down to write, I could fully immerse myself.

      I’m sorry your novel can’t be shocked, but I am glad to hear that your poetry is going well! As long as we can write something, I consider that a step in the right direction.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      Like

  2. What a positive way to challenge your grief. No doubt your emotions made your story better too. And doing such a 180 on your story’s character is probably also a great way to spark the writing mojo in general. Good advice for anyone stuck in a writing rut.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not sure how the story will work out now, and I’ve had to do away with my original ending, but I suppose that is the life of a writer. Most important is that I have found a way to fit the writing back in to my topsy-turvy life. You’re right, I think this is something anyone can use to help them move forward with their stories.

      Of course, it means we need to have a few extra characters on hand. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve come to think that at different points in our journey, when we’re stuck in a rut or unsure where to go, what worked before might not work again in the next instance. So while I’ve never done anything as drastic as kill off a main character, I can see where dropping a huge change like that into the story could open the creative floodgates and get one’s muse (and self) moving forward again. And it’s an idea I should keep at hand in my writer’s toolbox. I’m really glad to hear you’re moving forward again because I’m really looking forward to reading more of your stories!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey JM,

      Killing off a main character probably isn’t the best idea to use every time we’re stuck in a rut. Otherwise, we’re going to run out of characters, or worse, our stories are going to become super predictable! 🙂 But, if we take our books in a different direction than we’d originally imagined, that might be enough to get us out of our ruts.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Amy,

      *sigh* You’re right, I can’t give it up. And trust me, the question hovers over me almost every day because sometimes I just don’t think I have what it takes. And then I slam myself for slamming myself and I’m back to the page. I consider that a won battle, every time I come back.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Writing has always been very cathartic for me. When Mathair was in an accident in 2008, she was laid up with a broken ankle and going insane from being so immobile. I put a laptop in her hands and we’ve been writing together ever since. I’ve always been the bottling type. Never really comfortable with showing my emotions, but writing has always been that outlet for me. It was in school when I was bullied, in college when I was stressed and in my adult years when I lost my gpa, uncle and great gpa to Mesothelioma. Mathair has called me the grim reaper of the Inion N. Mathair writing duo. I have a tendency to kill off characters especially ones that have great meaning to the story or ones you would think fell under the protection of the plot. It’s wonderful to see that you’ve channeled your pain into something constructive and it’s even more wonderful to see that something so beautiful could come out of that pain. Our hearts are with you, Kate.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Inion, thank you so much for sharing those pieces of your life with me. I think your idea of giving Mathair a laptop to help combat boredom is wonderful! I’m a restless person too. I can’t whittle away 15 minutes doing nothing meaningful. I either have to journal or read or revise — something to do with writing that can fit comfortably in such a short space of time.

      I think that’s why I always come back to the page. It’s too much a part of me now, the writing, the stories, the plotting. But it can take its toll on me, as I’m sure you can relate to, and when we’re especially vulnerable, it’s that much harder to keep writing.

      I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your family members to Mesothelioma. That is so tragic, so unnecessary. Thinking of you.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Something similar has happened in my life last week. It’s taken me a while to get back on the wagon and I feel like I’m not giving my all. This article deeply affected me. Thank you. ❤

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    • Hi Buffy,

      In a weird way, it’s good that it takes a lot to get back to the writing after something jars us emotionally, physically, or spiritually. To me, it means that writing is that important to us and that we care so deeply about it. I think if it were easy to jump back to it, or easy to “get back on the wagon,” as you say, then we’re not taking our writing that seriously.

      Take heart that you’re not alone and that we can all relate to how hard this whole process is. It should be hard if we want anything meaningful out of it, right?

      I’m happy that my post touched you, and I really hope you find some time today to go back to your work and give it your best shot. Let me know how it goes, and thank you so much for dropping by and commenting.

      Like

  6. Finding – and allowing ourselves to experience – joy after loss is such a difficult thing to come to grips with, Kate, but it’s good to read that you’re finding the right balance for you, and it’s great to hear that it’s kickstarting your writing again. Storytelling seems such an integral part of the person you are. So glad that you are finding new ways to keep moving forward with it.

    Depression can take root so easily in times of stress or loss. I find myself turning to writing because it’s an activity – and a world – I have control over. During one particular down time, I mentioned to a friend that I knew my writing was a crutch, but it allowed me to work through feelings of guilt and sorrow in a way that was mostly controlled and sometimes even constructive. Even if what I wrote was horrible, the act of writing got those feelings out of me, and if they continued to make me feel sad or bitter, I could just tear them up, and they’d go away. This friend replied that we attach a stigma to the idea of the crutch, when really a crutch is by its nature designed to help us through difficult times. Leaning on it when we need to isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I’m not saying you’re doing that, here, but your words made me remember that time, and I think it’s important to share the idea that it’s okay to use writing as a catharsis.

    Thanks for sharing. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely understand what you mean by leaning on our writing to get through the bad times. I think that your friend is right; a crutch is normal and beneficial.

      I suppose I could journal some of this stuff, but I never found journaling very helpful or interesting. I much prefer spending time with my fictional characters and settings than trying to psychoanalyze myself!

      My writing tends to always be at the mercy of my life, though, and if I let it, my WIP would be swamped by a hundred other things. Trying to get it back, to return to a routine, requires so much time and energy, neither of which I have an abundance of. It’s actually much easier to stick with it, even when it’s not going well, than to let it slide out of my fingers for 6 months. So, I could see the writing on the wall when my mom passed away. I knew I had to take a drastic measure or it would be lost to me for too long.

      I hope that you’re holding up, too. I’m glad that you turn to the writing when things are feeling too heavy and too sad. Keeping you in my prayers.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. “Challenge yourself with something you cannot possibly ignore” I was about to say so when that sentence pop during the reading. Getting out of the comfortable zone or doing unexpected things is always a good way to keep moving. I read once “If you don’t know what to do with your characters, do something unexpected”, I guess that killing a vital character will keep you moving since you have to “fix” that mess.

    I’m sorry about your mom, but I am glad you keep writing and you were able to break through that situation. Nail Gaiman says: “Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.” That is what helped me to start my blog a few months ago =)

    It was wonderful to read you, btw!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for swinging by, Alba!

      I love that quote from Neil Gaiman. It makes me feel a little less selfish, actually. I don’t know if I make good art, but I certainly try my best, and that’s what matters.

      See you on the forums soon!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Writing is a catharsis for me, yet I go in waves with it.
    During one of the most difficult times of my recovery, with terrifying memories and nightmares robbing me day and night of any peace, I wrote. My muse wrote even more, and as you say -had the last word.
    What came out on paper during that time was a novel. But of course there was a lot of me in there. Only this time there was justice involved with the bad guy. It was just what I needed.
    I’ve only just started reading your e-book on writing, and am hoping you’ll help jolt me back to putting words on paper (or screen) again. I’ve stopped listening to my muse for too long.

    Like

    • Hey Denise,

      I love the experience you just described. I think that’s such a great way to start writing, releasing that inner turmoil onto the page.

      Even though there was a lot of “you” in there, we all have to start somewhere. Starting with ourselves is a pretty solid place, I think.

      Gosh, I am so happy you bought my ebook and you’re looking to it for inspiration. I really hope it helps you get back on the “writing horse.”

      Have a writerly day!

      Like

  9. I’m sorry you’re still struggling with your mom’s passing. But your post made a lot of sense, passing the shock onto you character. Every writer has their achilles heel. You found a way to work around it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have good days and bad days. The good days are increasing though. Writing has always been cathartic for me, but I think there was a little guilt in there too — doing something I love when I should be mourning? I don’t know. It’s very weird.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mixed emotions Kate. Understandable, I’ve been there, and am still there in many ways. Writing is a great release, and time is a great healer, which helps put a lot in perspective and helps us move on. 🙂

        Like

    • It helps to have an outlet to bridge that gap between grieving and moving on. I’m glad I turned to my story during this rough time. Writing is there for me like nothing else in this world. Thanks, Kourtney.

      Like

  10. It’s beautiful the way you have found a way back to your writing during this time, Kate doll. I can only imagine how difficult that was. When my mom was going through the breast cancer stuff early last year, I didn’t know how I was ever going to finish editing Nola Fran Evie. But I thought about how important it was to finish, because of the brave female characters in the book who needed to come out and meet the world. Then, I got back to work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for the late reply to your comment! I remember what you went through with your mom, and I love how you used the courage of your characters to strengthen your own journey. I guess you can kind of tell how important writing is to us when we can find ways to make it work, despite the burdens of life. Not to take away from the importance of Life’s events, of course, but I think you know what I mean. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Writing gives me great joy, but if I’m sad, like really sad, I can NOT touch the pen or keyboard. On the other hand, when I’m dealing with difficult issues, my writing is a great release and escape. I empathize with you Kate. I hope your writing keeps you moving on with loving memories. xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand that. Deep sadness can gut us, and there’s no way creativity can flow through that. I think the best thing to do is not to force it when it’s that bad. Sometimes we have to sit with our grief and just be one with it. Pushing it away or avoiding it won’t make it disappear and oftentimes, we can’t heal as quickly either.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Really insightful post, Kate. It’s funny how the thing that is integral to our lives and makes us who we are is often the first thing we stop doing. Like you, I stopped writing for a long time, for me because it was too painful — I had to think and feel and take those thoughts and feelings and put them into words. It was exhausting. (I also had to do it for my job, which sucked more energy than it gave.)

    But when you return to it, especially in times of great need, it gives back the same life it seemed to be draining and you realize how much you need it. I suppose it’s a relationship like any other: you have to nurture it and respect its rhythms and shake things up every once in a while. Maybe even have a date night now and then.

    I don’t get to do much fiction writing anymore, but your blog is inspiring, and I think I’ll try to see if I can fit it in. I write from 5-6:30 a.m., but I just started to consider getting up even earlier. Funny how the deeper you get into writing the more time you want to do it!

    Like

    • Hi Colleen, thanks for swinging by and reading! I agree that we need to treat writing like a relationship, a trusted soulmate, really. It helps when things don’t do so well. Maybe we feel less betrayal and more challenged to see what we can do under dire circumstances.

      I look forward to seeing you around 4am, and thank you for saying my blog is inspiring. That’s my aim!

      Like

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