One of our WOS sisters here just suffered the loss of her mother. I can’t imagine, although I know it’s coming. The woman who gave you life cannot and should not outlive yours. But it must be devastating.
I once had a critique partner tell me to “go deeper.” That she could tell I had a lot more to say and I had just skimmed the surface – I had begun to show and not tell, but she knew I could go a lot further and explore more. That comment was such a shock. It meant I had to go and feel something and somehow get that emotion down on the page. She likened it to a tunnel with a very small opening. You have to carve away at it so you can get in there. Start by crawling slowly, then at some point it becomes large enough to walk through. It’s still dark and scary, but bring a lamp – you’ll be fine.
I wrote a death scene in my book Stitches that I thought was done well, with respect, but told from a distance, like someone filming from above. I had, of necessity, killed off my protagonist’s husband, giving him a respectable and dignified end. When I finished it, I was pleased. Good job, writer!
But then I became uneasy. I crept around the house, restless and distracted. Unsatisfied. I puttered, moved things around, and then put them back, looking for perfection. I was becoming cranky. Why am I not a better writer? Why am I wasting my time? What the hell am I doing? It’s crap. It’s all crap.
Marching back into my office, I ordered myself to focus. Where do writers get their inspiration?
“Go deeper.” Her voice echoed. And then, as though we were speaking our own language, she said, “Use it.”
The lump in my throat threatened to choke me. I placed my hands on the keyboard and started to write about the day my father died – long, long ago. I was fifteen and didn’t quite know what was going on because in those days children were protected from the hard parts, and it had never occurred to me he might die.
So I wrote. I put down every minute detail I could remember of that day and opened my scarred-over heart to things I hadn’t thought about for years. By the time I finished I had thirty pages. I shook, I cried, I wailed, and I wrote. For hours.
I went deep. And it hurt. But what I came up with was not only cathartic to my personal life, it was an opening in my writing life, a permission slip to explore more deeply how humans work and the consequences of life itself. I had dug into the tunnel and opened it a little wider so I could crawl through, and I had survived.
I’m looking forward to walking upright, but I know it will take a while.
As for the death scene in Stitches, I kept it. It was appropriate for the vehicle. But I was able to return to scenes where my protagonist’s pain showed up and I was now equipped to more clearly and much more powerfully display it.
Emotional writing is hard. You can’t make it up. You have to feel it. You have to express it, and you have to share it. Your readers will connect with that kind of honesty.