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Fighting the Emotional Block

My childhood wasn't exactly idyllic. Instead of matching Christmas pajamas and milkshakes at the mall food court with friends, there was rage-fueled drunk driving, hiding drugs from the cops, and narrowly avoiding sexual assault. There was isolation and insecurity and crippling bullying. If it wasn't hard enough reliving those memories, as an author you also must describe those events with such detail that the reader feels they are right there with you. And you have to do so in a way that doesn't drown them in despair.

I'm sure you'll realize, as I did, that in telling your story you're sharing anecdotes that aren't exactly flattering for the other characters in your tale. Heck, a lot of them aren't even flattering for you. I have been an avid reader my whole life, so I'm well aware that the more vulnerable an author can be, the better the story ends up. But the "what ifs" can be downright terrifying. What if your brother reads this and learns that you were the one who stole mom's twenty and stood silently by letting him take the punishment. What if the boy you had a huge crush on in third grade finds out you took classes you hated just to be near him. What if your mom realizes she didn't keep you as safe as she thought she did, and gets filled up with regret about it. What if it hurts your dad's feelings to learn just how scared you were of him when he was on a rampage. Or what if your aunt thinks this fictional character is based on her and her heart breaks thinking you never liked her. Adding in the realization that complete strangers who read your work will have insights into your life that your close friends aren't even privy to, and the emotional blocks become crippling.

After sitting on a scene for a few weeks, frozen, overthinking everything, and unable to continue, I finally reached out to a friend and fellow author, Doc Copp. He patiently listened as I listed every single thing that was wrong with the story, every person it would hurt, every secret it would expose, and then offered this advice:

Stop making excuses for people.

Nobody wants to offend their loved ones, but to gloss over their faults because you don't want to hurt their feelings is a disservice to your story. Maybe you understand their motivations better now that you're an adult and have processed any childhood traumas you experienced, but in that moment in your tale your perceptions are the story. How people come across as you're relating the circumstances and raw emotions you experienced is a product of who they were to you at that time. We're all flawed. You cannot make excuses for them. Or yourself.

Writing is an exercise in narcissism.

This is about you. Your story. Your memories. It is scary to share things that feel too personal or too hurtful. Will readers relate to this, or will they judge you for it? But you have to set those fears aside. No matter what people will think or say, including people you love dearly, you must write the story as you, the author, see the story. Although normally considered a personality flaw, in this instance conceit is your friend. Conceit will carry you through your blocks. Apologize to your brother, tell your mom you love her, and write your story.

Do the work before you write.

Chances are pretty good that if you are sitting down to tell your story, it is not because your life was easy or uneventful. You triumphed over some insanely difficult challenge, survived a particularly traumatic event, or went on a wild and wonderful journey that changed the very fiber of your being. The thing is, if you haven't processed and learned from your story you cannot expect anyone else to glean personal value from it. There's a book by a girl who was bullied in high school, and throughout the story it's clear she never really figured out why she was bullied. And at the end she was still so desperate for the popular kids to like her at her 20 year high school reunion that it was also clear she never really processed her childhood traumas or moved past them. She wrote well, and the story was good, but it leaves the reader with a sense of things being unresolved and hopeless. If you find yourself with unresolved subject matter that keeps you from writing your story, talking to a counselor about it or keeping a journal might be the breakthrough you need to conquer your emotional block.

"We as humans want to be nice and look over fault, but the reality is we are all just flawed apes." - Doc Copp


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