I am delighted to welcome talented writer Avery Caswell to my blog today. Avery has written a beautiful book called ‘Luck’ available from Amazon UK and Amazon US. She is currently seeking representation for her new book, Conjure Silver.
I am particularly happy to have this post because I, too, have found writing to be very therapeutic: my hard drive is littered with sad and angry letters written to people and never posted.
I’ll pass you over to Avery who can explain it to you far more eloquently than I.
Writing As Therapy
I write for the same reason I breathe. Because if I didn’t I’d die.
Let’s face it, this has been a hard year. Like most people, my household income is stagnant while the price of everything from gas to granola soars. A family member had a series of misadventures involving the talents of multiple attorneys. One of my children required surgery that Blue Cross Blue Shield declined to cover. A friend’s marriage has foundered. Another friend’s cancer has returned. My closest friend died suddenly in a freak accident. It’s been like standing in the middle of a forest while a storm rages. Watching the trees around me collapse, I’ve wondered how much longer I can remain standing.
Maybe talking to a therapist would help? someone suggested.
Here’s what I got for my $30 co-pay: The kind doctor told me I have excellent coping skills.
Of course I do. I’m a writer. That’s what writers do. We cope. With rejection, deadlines, procrastination and distractions.
When something bad happens, I’ve found the best coping mechanism is to write about it. Take today for example. As the worst tennis player in the league, I’m paired with the retired ladies in their knee and wrist braces. They can barely move yet still return more volleys, lobs and ground shots than I do. Rather than dying of embarrassment on the court, I remind myself that I’ll free write about this tomorrow. I can use this feeling of intense embarrassment, the burning face, the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, and the sweating palms that make it difficult to hold the racket properly. My overall physical ineptness certainly will prove helpful in a scene somewhere.
I have written from the depths of despair but rarely from the state of bliss. My first published piece, “Prepared for the Holidays” in Novello Festival Press’s Tis the Season was about my one-year-old’s leukemia diagnosis. I knew it was a little heavy but thought it would provide some contrast with pieces about sugar plum fairies and figgy pudding. Instead it took its place beside memories of a mother’s leaving, a father’s imprisonment, and fires that obliterated the family farm on Christmas day. Tragedy and despair are well-proven catalysts for writing.
Though I’m not advocating for finished manuscripts to be one long rant or a substitute for psychoanalysis, free writes can be exactly that. After purging (onto paper) all the things that are driving you crazy, worrying you, or making you so angry you could scream, you will feel better. Then you can have fun with them. After I play with my free writes — revise, edit, correct all the spelling errors (I’m a ghastly typist) — they no longer resemble therapy. Sometimes, this purifying pouring out of my troubles can be transformed into a scene that fits snugly into a current project.
A few years ago, after I made a bad hire at my day job, I resorted to free writing about the situation — often while the colleague in question sat at a desk only a few feet away from me. (She did wonder why I laughed as I typed.) The woman had more excuses for being late, missing deadlines, and failing to deliver what she’d been hired to do than porcupines have quills. Now hiring her is paying off as she has become the antagonist for my homeless gypsy witch. Do I worry this person will sue me if (not if, when) this novel is published? I am comforted by Dori Sanders (Clover, 1990 Algonquin Books) who told me no one recognizes themselves in fiction so just go ahead and write about ’em. (Change their names first of course!)