Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Your struggles are what make you a better writer

Recently, I got a text from someone who is currently reading my novel, Shadow of Samhain. She commented on how the nightmare scene was "brutal." I joked that I’ve had so much experience with nightmares that it has helped me to be able to write fictional ones.

The meaning behind that little joke never really hit home with me until I saw the Doctor Who episode, “The Unicorn and the Wasp.” Up until then, I’d only seen bits and pieces of that episode. I was always too busy to watch it. But today, I had the time, so I planted myself on the couch and made sure I watched the whole episode from beginning to end.

For the non-Whovians, this particular episode had the Doctor and his companion, Donna, in 1926, at a party where the famous crime writer Agatha Christie was a guest. I was delighted that this particular episode was like a whodunit. Crime was afoot! There was a murder mystery to solve! How cool to see the Doctor teaming up with Agatha Christie to solve the mystery.

But there was something in this particular episode that grabbed me. That really spoke to me on such a deep level. At one point, Agatha is sharing her doubts about her abilities as a writer. She thought her books would be forgotten after she was gone. Now, I know this is fiction, but I would not have been surprised if the real Agatha Christie had gone through such episodes. I, too, have been there. And I am currently there now. A writer is their own worst critic! And lately, I have been hating everything I’ve written. I’ve wanted to tear it all up and BURN it! I want to punch myself in the face for even wanting to self-publish yet another poetry book that probably will not sell at all.

But then … then … the Doctor said something that really spoke to me. One of the other things I have been struggling with is the “why” in life. Why did this happen? Why did that happen? Why did I have to go through that bad thing? Why did I have to have that kind of experience?

What the Doctor said gave me my answer.

In one scene, Agatha was insisting she’d be no good to solve the murder because she is just a “purveyor of nonsense.” To this, the Doctor told Agatha Christie, the fictional Agatha Christie, something that really hit home for me: “No, no, no, no, no, no, no. Because plenty of people write detective stories, but yours are the best. And why? Why are you so good, Agatha Christie? Because you understand. You've lived, you've fought, you've had your heart broken. You know about people. Their passions, their hope, and despair, and anger.”

This really gave me pause. It made me realize that I went through ALL of those things because I am living the life of a writer. A writer cannot possibly expect to write deep, gripping and emotional writing if he/she has had an easy life. Everything in life is something to be written about. It’s all grist for the mill.

I thought about how so many writers are able to take all the things they have been through in life – the good things, the bad things, the happy things and the things they have lost – and put it ALL into their writing. We are able to capture those moments so well and write them so realistically because We Have Been There. We know that pain. We understand that struggle. We have lived it, suffered through it and survived it.

Bringing it all to life through our work, through our writing, is easy because we KNOW these things. We UNDERSTAND these things. We have SURVIVED these things.

Truly, it is our struggles that make us a better writer. We have seen the dark side of humanity and therefore can put it into words on paper.

So instead of asking “why did this happen?” or “why did that person do that to me?” or proclaiming that something is not fair, instead, embrace it. All of it. The good things and the bad things. Know it and feel it to the core.

Because only then will you be able to write about it later. Only then will you make it very real for someone who has never been there. You can write about what it’s like to have a broken heart for someone who has never been in love and make them cry right along with you. You can write about the despair of losing a child because you have had such an experience, and through your words people who have not been in your shoes will know your pain and grieve with you. If you have been bullied, you can write about it so realistically that readers will be outraged over such cruelty.

This has made me appreciate everything that I have been through in life. Even if some of those things are still painful or some of those things are a terrible injustice. I appreciate them, because as a writer, I can write about them in a way that will touch readers on a deeper level. You really need to go through some kind of experience in order to really understand it and know it well enough to write about it. That’s what the struggles in our lives can give to us, the writers. That is just one takeaway value.

Don’t toss aside your struggles in life. Embrace them. Use them in your writing. By accepting your struggles and embracing them for all that they are, only then can you truly bring them to life on the page when you write about them.

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