I’ve got a confession to make. Just lately I’ve been suffering from a strange, and as far as I know, nameless, affliction. The only way I can describe it to you is by asking you to recall the feeling you get in your stomach just before you sit an important exam. You know, that lurch, that turnover, that horrible tightness that takes your breath away for a moment? Yeah, that.
I first noticed it happening whenever I thought about my writing. The things I had planned to do once my littlest child was in bed. I put it down to a sort of nervous excitement, and a borderline panic about how little time there is to write all the things I have in my head.
Then I noticed it happened at other times too. Just randomly. My stomach dropping, lurching and rolling over.
So, then I blamed it on something else. I’ve always been interested and engaged in political thought and debate, but even more so in recent years. This is not a bad thing, but then it gets to the point where you are feeling angry and helpless all of the time. Post Brexit was pretty bad. It’s all pretty bad. Climate change. Inequality. Housing crisis. A rise in racism and hate crime. Endless war. The fact we’re being organised and dictated to by massive corporations hellbent on destroying the world. The fact you cannot trust the media to tell you the truth.
So, I made the decision to delete Facebook from my phone. Something I never thought I would do! I was getting seriously addicted. Picking it up to check my newsfeed first thing in the morning, and pretty much every chance I got throughout the day after that.
I did feel an immediate sense of relief. That first morning stomach lurch dissipated. I picked up a book instead. I no longer check my phone throughout the day because there is nothing to check. I have a quick scroll through Facebook in the evening, once I have done enough work to deserve a little break, and I’m sad to say it’s still the same. The violence rages on, the world gets hotter and there seem to be angry and ignorant people everywhere.
I did feel a sense of relief and freedom for a while. But that feeling in my stomach has not gone away. In fact, I am getting it more often. Maybe it is because I’ve become aware of it, nervous of it even? Confused by it, and as a consequence, fixated on it? I don’t know, but it is strange, and very annoying. Sometimes it takes my breath away. I have to stop, hold onto something and take a very deep and deliberate breath. And then I am okay again.
I can’t blame anything in my personal life. Everything is as it should be. Everyone is in perfect health. Money is tight, but it’s never been any different at any time in my life. We have a lovely home and a huge garden. We grow our own fruit and vegetables and raise chickens and ducks. We’re outside, a lot! I’ve got my four beautiful, intelligent children, and yes they come with their own issues, and yes being a parent is sometimes stressful and exhausting. But I’m a placid, easy going sort of person. I roll with the punches. I look back on the past fondly, I focus on the now, and I don’t look too far ahead,(unless it’s my saving up for a VW Campervan.)
So why the bad feeling? What does it mean? What is it trying to tell me? I just can’t work it out. It takes me by surprise at random times of the day, creeping up and sucking the air out of me, crunching up my guts and making me think I have forgotten something important. Am I about to sit an exam? Am I about to confront some scary, aggressive person? What is it??
I don’t know, and maybe I will never know. Maybe it built up over time and my stomach got so used to being tied up in knots, it just doesn’t know how not to be. All I can do right now is try to make use of it. I wrote a short story you can find in Bird People And Other Stories called She Is… I wrote this story to keep a novel at bay, and I’ve started writing a second short story with the same characters. Basically the story is about teenage girls, bullying and revenge, but the narrator describes this constant heavy feeling in her belly. She wakes up with it, and it comes and goes throughout the day. Of course, this came from me and my own experience, and I’ve carried it on into the next story. In her mind, it’s because something bad is going to happen, she just doesn’t know what or when. It’s a sense of foreboding for her, a warning from her body.
My fears for the way the world is heading, my fight to find hope, my questions about human nature, have all been rolled out and examined in Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature. (On the third draft now) I didn’t even realise I was doing it at first, but I’ve poured so much of my current state of mind into this story-line. Elliot is the child in me, the hopeful innocent looking for the good in people. His mother Laura is the cynic in me, (exaggerated a fair bit! )Through her I get to rant and rave, I get to swear and scream at the cruelty and injustice in the world. I get to indulge myself in misery and cynicism, fearing the worst and totally giving in to it. I get to hide under a duvet and pretend it’s not happening.
In The Mess Of Me Lou is the voice for my own teenage angst and body issues. She is louder and brasher than me, able to say things I was not.
In recent short stories I have released endless frustrations and anxieties. From my utter dismay that people think it’s okay to dump rubbish in the river where I live, to my constant paranoia that one day soon the Earth is just going to snap, just going to cull us all in one bloody swoop, freeing itself at last. I honestly don’t know how I would cope with this world if I were not a writer!
I think this is the best and sometimes the only thing we can do with something that tortures us. Use it, write about it, pass it on to a fictional character. Maybe this is one way to eventually rid yourself of it! Or at least gain a better understanding of it. I think writers do this all the time, often without even realising it. We project our fears and anxieties onto made up people, into made up worlds. So it’s not us with the problem, it’s someone else.
And then, we feel like we have some control. We can direct the proceedings, we can work out what the problem is, we can send the character on a journey and we can even create a happy ending 🙂 I truly think this ability is one of the greatest things about being a writer.
What about you? Please feel free to leave a comment!
4 thoughts on “Take What Tortures You And Write About It”
This post really resonates with me, and I find it really helpful to know I’m not the only one who gets this helpless, sad and angry feeling when I read my news feed on Facebook. I too switched off for a while. I couldn’t handle the constant bombardment of bad news. I’ve come to think that the bad news was always there (before Facebook), but we only ever used to read about in the newspaper or on TV. It’s too accessible now. I think we have to learn to put some walls up.
I love your idea of transferring your anxieties to your characters, and indeed we are lucky, as writers, to be in a position to do this. And through our readers, we can be heard. It puts us in a position of power.
PS. I enjoy hearing about YOU the writer, as well as your writing /blogging tips. I haven’t read your last blog post yet, about why your blog should not be about you, but I hope it doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to be getting posts like this one 🙂
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Thanks so much Eleanor! I think you’re so right; we didn’t use to notice the bad news as much. Now it is everywhere, and hard to escape. (Not that we should turn a blind eye and not try to do what we can to help people suffering) But I think we have to keep it in perspective, at least I am trying to! It is a theme I explore in Elliot Pie, whether the world has got worse and people are more evil, and I think in reflection, they are not. People are basically good. You’ve got to have hope. It was therapeutic to write this book (just on the third draft now…) as some characters had basically given up and become either very depressed or angry, and some saw things very differently. Anyway, will talk about that another day! Ah yes, the post about the blog being about the reader, rather than the writer was a guest post by a lovely author called Shalaena…It just explains how you need to think about the recipient of the blog, and not just talk about yourself and your books constantly. She’s helped me a lot with revamping my blog! You will be getting plenty more honest blog posts from me, don’t worry. I have tons scheduled! Thanks again for reading and commenting and hope all is well with you xx 🙂
Don’t worry about things you have no influence over and find the good things and enjoy them ; things that give you a sense of control and accomplishment; and if that doesn’t work give what annoys you a damn good thrashing!!! like John Cleese in the Specsavers add, but make sure no policemen are watching.
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Haha! What a brilliant idea! Thank you Mike!