Bitter truth: Writing requires emotional risk. After the brilliant actor Bryan Cranston played the dark, devious and sometimes evil Walter White in the Breaking Bad series, he played Lyndon Johnson on Broadway in All the Way. His Walter White character arc was one of the most remarkable in our times. White, a high school chemistry teacher, is handed a terminal cancer diagnosis and is desperate to provide for his family. His solution: to brew potent meth amphetamines and become a drug lord. And to enlist one of his druggie former students to help. Of course this took many steps, but the transformation from the guy next door to a murderous thug was convincing. Or as the show’s creator Vince Gilligan said, “Mr. Chips to Scarface.” And the show lasted for six seasons as the body count grew.
When the series ended Cranston needed distance from his meth-brewing character and he needed to wipe eradicate Walter White from his persona. LBJ was a perfect foil, brilliant, devious, but concerned about the good of the country. The play’s run was successful, Cranston’s portrayal uncanny and HBO adapted it into a film.
In an interview Cranston revealed that he used his father who abandoned him in childhood as inspiration for White’s character. He turned his pain into someone devious and pathetic and desperate. He even adapted how his father carried his body, rounded his shoulders.
Just as in acting, our best writing will require revealing something about ourselves that might be stored in a rarely-opened closet. Because the best writing reveals an emotional truth only the writer knows. Perhaps it’s that aching loneliness that has never dissipated since your divorce or your mother’s death. Perhaps it’s rage at a childhood scarred with abuse. Or desires that never came true.
Trust in the honesty of your body. Feel yourself deeply, down to your core when you write. Go where the pain is. Your words that are most alive, most vivid will emerge. And you’ve earned that dark forest of memories.
Keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart