Word by Word

Practical insights for writers from Jessica P Morrell

Quick Take: Use Your Pain

Written By: Jessica Morrell - Feb• 13•19

After my first book Writing Out the Storm was published, I got a phone call from an executive at iVillage. It was a high-profile site and the biggest women’s web site in the world at the time. I was hired to be the writing expert and teach hundreds of writers. The gig included live online lectures where I learned to type about 100 word per minute, assignments, feedback, and a whole lot of writing. I refined a lot of my methods for teaching beginning writers and helped launch the careers of several successful authors. And did I mention it was fun?

The writers at the site were given assignments and posted them for all of us to comment on. One of the assignments was to write about the discovery of a corpse. And oh man, did that open up the floodgates of weird. Bodies turned up in car trunks, landfills, wells, and city parks. It was a hoot. Many of the writers were stay-at-home moms and the corpse assignment tapped into their hidden imaginings.

Fast forward several decades and these days I know and work with a lot of suspense and thriller writers. And for the most part, they’re the kindest, funniest people around. But their stories are full of cold-eyed killers, mutilated corpses, and creepy motives. Obviously these (relatively) normal writers haven’t experienced these things, but they still access darker parts of themselves to bring their stories to life.

Which leads to this point: Be willing to track your own  uncomfortable emotions and experiences to use in your writing. Were you ever an outsider?  Had a lonely childhood? Crazy parent? Family’s expectations were wildly unrealistic or confining?  Have you been rejected or betrayed? Did tragedy or devastating illness visit your family?

Mine those potent and awful memories working from the gut, remembering your body’s reactions and truths. When you discovered a dear friend slept with your fiancé what did your stomach feel like? Hollow? Nausea? Roiling? How did you try to comfort yourself? How did you recover from the shock and sudden unknowns? How did you navigate your new landscape? Because how the heck do you move forward after a brutal betrayal or terrible ending to a relationship? 

You want and need to write outside of your normal reality? Use your pain. Especially notice the times when you experienced the ‘fight or flight’ reactions because fictional characters have them all the time. And then write from your body because it holds those awful truths.

keep writing, keep dreaming, have heart

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