Sometimes I freak myself out with my writing.
I don’t mean that I am so good that I can hardly believe it. I think I am a pretty decent writer, and it comes fairly easily to me – at least the early stages do – but I know I have lots of room to improve and I know that an editor will make me vastly better.
What I mean is that sometimes I come up with an idea or a character that totally unnerves me. And sometimes they resonate so hard that I wonder if I should consider bringing them up with a psychologist.
Today was one of those days. I was just doing a writing exercise* and suddenly my character was talking about the difficulty of dealing with the past – how you can’t engage with it, you just have to bury it, but sometimes it won’t stay buried.
The image I chose was fairly ridiculous – a pool noodle, and the way you can’t keep one under water. Yet, somehow the image became more and more ominous as I wrote. My character went on to try and metaphorically bury the memory in the dirt and suddenly this pool noodle, in my mental image, was that black-green mold colour. Sitting on top of the ground, slimy and cold, as the character frantically scraped at the dirt to create a hole big enough to put it in. She feels like her efforts are in vain though, because there is going to be a way for that slimy memory to surface again.
Putting myself in the character’s shoes gave me chills. It felt horrible to think of trying to escape that memory and that’s the point where my empathy for my character creeps me out.
Why can I conjure up that feeling? What do I know about trying to suppress a horrible memory?
My imagination just goes wild. Do I know how to suppress a memory? Have I done it already and now I am going to conjure it up by writing about this character’s desperation?
Obviously, that’s foolishness, but my body doesn’t know that. My body travels more slowly than my brain does, and when my body feels the dread and anxiety of the character – even when my brain knows better – it’s damn hard to shake. I have to consciously stop and move around, and sometimes literally shake it off.
I can’t decide whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s definitely a thing.
* I know some people don’t like writing exercises, they consider them a waste of time, but I like them as warm-ups and to me they feel the same as when I practice my patterns for Taekwon-do – it’s a time to work out some kinks, to get my muscles ready for the task ahead and to really understand the process I am trying to use for the bigger work. Writing muscles are different than physical muscles, obviously, but the comparison works for me. The more writing exercises I do, the more easily other writing comes to me.