22 April

Emotional Writing - Which Category Are You?


There seems to be two types of writers...
1) ones who can experience a deeply emotional event, and can distance themselves from their emotions enough to immediately, and competently, write on that event. Often, those writers end up being reporters. I'm thinking of Hemingway in the Spanish Civil War, Farley Mowat in WWII, and Neil Sheehan in Vietnam.
2) ones whose emotions are so strong, their psyches too attached to the event that immediate and competent writing on said will be fraught with grammatical errors and poor word choices - not the writer's usual M. O. 
If you're in the first category, good on you!
You're probably hunkering down in some foxhole right this very minute, and with muddy fingers hacking out a genius draft with a stubby pencil and a wet and tattered notebook. You are my hero.
If you're in the second, welcome to my world.
I remember back in high school, in Grade 12, we had to take a career survey. It was some high-fangled computer algorithm gadget thingy that when you answered a bevy of questions, it would spit out on a daisy wheel printer sheet the best careers for you. Yesss, this was just shy of the Stone Age, stop snickering.
I remember these were my choices:
* Political Diplomat
* Nun
* Reporter
Those of you who know me personally, STOP LAUGHING!
Seriously, I hear you out there, rolling around on your carpet.
STOP IT, I say!
My response to said choices:
* I'm of Northern Irish descent, and if I had lived in Northern Ireland, my lifeless corpse would have decayed ages ago in some lowly ditch, as a result of my unknowingly mouthing off to a clandestine IRA member I found in a Catholic pub I purposely frequented, to purposely tear a hole in the social fabric, for shits 'n' giggles. I have friends who live near Belfast, who plead with me to this very day, to stay the heck in Canada if I treasure my life. It seems diplomatic foreplay is not my forte. ;-)
* Referencing the above, it's obvious I'm not Catholic, and my love of booze and swearing like a drunken sailor wouldn't make me many friends in the nunnery, I'm thinking.
* As much as I love fast-paced jobs and writing, the combo would probably physically kill me over time. I don't smoke or do drugs, so I guess I'd end up becoming an alcoholic from the daily pressures of grinding out good articles on harrowing events, 10 minutes before deadline.
My long-winded point here is if you cannot divide your mind, so quality prose can be produced on a sensitive subject, you MUST take a mental chill-pill after experiencing an emotional event, well before you begin to write. For emotional writers like myself, there is no other way.
Steps to Better Emotional-Induced Writing for the 2nd Category:
1) Experience the event. Take it in with all your senses. Make notes in real time. Own your emotions, as they will be the well from which you will draw to craft your future prose piece.
2) Go home, rest and heal. Take a step back, and regain your mental and physical strength. You have expended everything you had just to survive through that event. Now's the time to rest and digest.
3) Gather your notes and do further extraneous research - read, listen, and watch everything on the subject. Get more immersed, but do it from an emotionally safe distance.
4) Synthesize all your information into a completed draft. Every day, work a bit on that draft until you've edited out any lingering emotional gaffes. It takes days to re-read and assess the piece through objective eyes.
5) And when, and only when, you read a solid researched piece, which conveys your deep emotions in a cohesive, error-free way, hit Publish.
Yes, being in the second category is a tough row to hoe.
Rest and research and literal time and distance away from the event will be what gets your emotions working for you, not against you, in the prose.
Bonus to being in the Second Category:
Your measured literary response will produce a far deeper resonance with your reader than what can be written on the fly. The piece will exude a complex mastery of emotions and your embed knowledge.
Your work may never be the first public response, but it might be the last, the final word which forever lingers on the minds of readers.
Today, look yourself in the mirror.
Be honest with your strengths, and especially your weaknesses.
And decide which writer category you are.
And hone the strengths inherent in that category.
You can't be all things to all people.
Be the best at who you are for people who love to read you for who you are.
That's where literary success lives.

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