I think that most artists stay in touch with their emotions because often it’s the emotion that inspires or fuels the art in the first place. Emotion provides an undercurrent of energy when we write; the trick is to allow the emotion without sacrificing other aspects of good writing, such as discipline. For instance, in the heat of the moment, it may seem that I’ve written the most brilliant thing since Shakespeare. So of course I can’t change a thing. But eventually, when the emotional thrill dies down, I have to do the work of a writer, which is: edit.
Sometimes when a writer gets fully involved in a work—whether it’s a letter to the editor, a scene in a novel, or her own journal—it can be difficult to transition out of the emotional intensity. This can be a problem for those of us who have day jobs and/or families we must live with. Of course I must tap my deep sense of injustice or sorrow as I write this particular bit. But eventually I need to help the twelve-year-old with her social studies homework. Or pay a bill, or throw some laundry into the washer.
The emotional work we do when we write or paint—or, really, do anything creative—is what I call an occupational hazard. I don’t find it surprising that so many “creatives” suffer from depression and other such ills. We may spend hours a day down in that cellar of the soul, mucking around in who-knows-what so that we can get this poem right or tell Grandma’s story with integrity.
This is why I believe it’s so important to have support systems in place. Depending on who you are and what your general habits are, your help may come from a therapist, spiritual director, yoga practice, attending daily Mass, going for brisk walks, or whatever. Sometimes the writing stirs up what’s inside us and makes quite a mess, and we need assistance with the clean-up. I consider this just a normal aspect of a writer’s life. And that’s true whether or not you get paid for your writing.
But here’s the grand part: emotions will help you tap such deep, wonderful stuff as you’re writing. If you’re going through an ordinary day and experience anger or sadness or bliss or curiosity—you can follow that emotion down through layers of your experience and memory and find all sorts of scenes, stories, and concepts attached to those emotions.
And, as with the senses, we tend to be selective. Maybe you write mostly when you’re sad or frustrated. Or the primary emotional energy you use to write with is joy or wonderment. Be sure to use every emotion (not all at once, and not all the time) when you’re writing. In fact, if there’s an emotion you’re avoiding—that’s a huge clue that there’s a story hidden under it, maybe a story you don’t want to tell yet, but it’s there and ready when you are.
- Write about the first time, ever, you experienced bliss.
- Write about the person who frightened you most when you were a child.
- Today, when you hear yourself sigh, take a moment to write whatever comes to mind, right then.
- Finish this sentence: “The last time I felt a truly intense emotion was [blank], and this is what I felt . . .”
Jesus, you lived a human life and felt every emotion there is to feel. Help me receive my emotions as what they are—indicators of what’s happening inside me and keys to important memories and truths. When I try to escape my feelings, remind me that they are gifts, and help me stay in the moment.
I’ll be hosting a Tweetchat on Friday, October 4, at 12:00 CST. Use the hashtag #writethesoul to join in and discuss your experiences from this retreat week. Ask me any questions ahead of time here on the blog or @VinitaKS on Twitter.
Vinita wrote the material this week especially for this online retreat—these are not book excerpts! However, if you find this material helpful and would like to pursue your writing further, you will probably enjoy Vinita’s brand new book: The Art of Spiritual Writing: How to Craft Prose That Engages and Inspires Your Readers. Use code 4365 to purchase your copy for only $10 through 10/31/13. Shipping and handling are additional.