Well, now you see how close to the ragged edge of disaster I run on a regular basis. Between trying to write ♥My Book♥ and being sick over the weekend (and I’m still not 100%) I’m burnt out, and that’s why you got two somewhat-spacey mystical blog entries. Usually I try to be sarcastic and practical here. Now you know.
I came across an email to another writer who had lost a baby. She was disturbed that she couldn’t write anything in the wake of her loss, and I said it had taken four years after Emily’s death to really feel like I could be a writer again. I was writing during that time, of course, but grieving was robbing my brain of its inspiration the same way being sick this weekend did.
Here’s a quote from that email:
You can “scab over” the hurt, but it’s still there, and the trauma hasn’t been resolved enough that your inner self, the introspective part that writes, wants to handle it. You may at some level understand that it hasn’t been resolved and that’s what’s keeping you from writing about it — because it hasn’t been resolved, you can’t create a tidy little package about it.
Have you read “The Forest For The Trees” by Betsy Lerner? In it she writes that writers tend to keep a distance between themselves and the rest of their lives, as if they’re observing their own lives. It puts a slight wall between themselves and what they’re feeling. So that rather than just feeling hurt, a writer notes that he’s feeling hurt and also how that affects him and what that does to the people around him and so on and so forth. It means there’s always a little shell between a writer and his own feelings so that he can analyze himself even as he’s experiencing something. Sometimes I wonder if that’s not how I survived losing Emily at all — by simultaneously living it and keeping some distance on myself. Maybe you’ve got that wall there too and you know it would hurt to have it come down right now enough to write about it.
Looking at what I wrote four years ago, I can see where I’ve coped with other tragedies by doing the same. In fact, sometimes I find myself in the middle of a mess nowadays and thinking, “I should blog about that.”
But is that healthy? It is, and it’s not. It’s an examined life, but is that life examined at the expense of living it? Am I here-but-n0t-here when I dwell in the twilight between feeling and introspection? Am I effectively saying to myself, “That’s nice, dear, but what have you learned?”
Emily died in July and I had her website up by September, but writing something deeper and more reflective took time. I don’t think I fully explored in fiction the emotions of losing a baby until I wrote Winter Branches (in 2005) and you can see even there, the feelings were translated. (Before someone brings up “Damage,” I’ll note that “Damage” had the same situation but none of the grieving. It’s the frame of the house without the furnishings, the carpet, or the drapes.)
My point here is just, if you’ve endured a tragedy, give it time before you try writing. Maybe years. If you want the processed, final product, those precious resolved feelings, you need to resolve them first. Writing in an effort to process the emotions is journaling, and that’s fine. But writing your tragedy too soon because you want to leap right to the end product leads to stalled writing and a burnt-out writer or to a fake-sounding resolution, and it won’t help others in the same situation.