This week’s dialog is inspired by an article by Henriette Lazaridis Power called Embracing Discomfort. It’s on the Beyond the Margins web site, a great resource for writers.
Denise: In her article, Henriette Lazaridis Power talks about the ways we avoid things that make us uneasy, and how confronting these issues makes us better writers. She asks “What’s your greatest writing weakness? And what do you do to overcome it?”
Those questions inspired me to approach the idea of embracing discomfort on a more personal level. I’ve always liked the quote from the poet John Berryman, “Travel in the direction of your fear.” Like Henriette Lazaridis Power, I think it’s fruitful to meet your fear and discomfort head on.
So, my questions for our discussion today are: What are the sore points in your personal life and history? How do these experiences inform your writing?
Due to my family history and my introverted personality, I’ve always felt like an outsider. It’s not easy for me to make friends, and because I was taunted and excluded for my differences when I was young, it’s not easy for me to trust others to be kind. It’s taken most of my life to learn how to be a good friend and accept the friendship of others.
Not surprisingly, friendship is the subject of a lot of my writing. However, I have trouble exploring the darker side of friendship. I tend to avoid putting characters in sustained conflict. It’s hard for me to refrain from having them resolve their differences right away.
Robine, do you find it hard to write about anything that reminds you of a painful part of your life?
Robine: Funny you should ask. A painful part of my past is my failed marriage. So what do I write about? Relationships.
Of course all writing, “they” say, is based on your own story, but in my case I altered the situation by making the male character a bully and the female character a wimp. I didn’t realize I was doing this until a few readers of the first draft chapter 1 commented on how much they disliked the male character and didn’t understand why the two were even married.
Not a good beginning if you want your readers to care about the characters and their relationship!
Denise: Sounds like you might be resisting writing more sympathetically about the male character because those memories are still painful. I think my problem is the flip side of the same thing: I’m afraid to explore the darker side of friendship because the whole idea of friendship is so fraught for me.
However, I might finally be ready to dive in a little deeper. That’s one advantage letting time pass before exploring a subject. You gain some objectivity, which is needed to transform experience into fiction. You need to be able to set up dramatic situations in cold blood.
But here’s the crux: good writing demands a combination of cool craft and raw emotion. The struggle to write honestly about an uncomfortable subject is exactly the thing that brings authentic life to a piece.
Robine: Gee, the sun has always cast its cheery face on our two-decade-long friendship. Perhaps we should manufacture a few storm clouds, a bit of conflict, between us so you can practice how you would deal with similar conflict between your characters.
And as for my handling of the central male character unsympathetically in my fiction, yes, clearly I’m doing so to deal with the still-painful memories. I think I’m also trying to manipulate events to effect a different outcome for both the relationship and for the main female character in my fiction, as though, laughably, that might change the outcome of the real events. Revenge via the pen?
Besides preparing to revise my novel (got to make the guy more likable), I’m also working on a memoir of the nearly eight years I lived in a barn. And that endeavor brings up the question of truth in writing. How much does a writer reveal when dealing with private events where others are involved and may be hurt by the public disclosure of these events? Maybe food for thought for a future 2WB dialog.