Last night I went to a book club meeting in High Point, North Carolina, to talk with some readers about my book From May to December. The book has been out for a couple of years, and it was a pleasure to remember the events and the emotions that inspired it.
The writing of this particular book had been driven by my love for my dear friend, Kitty Gretsch, who died in December, 2001, of breast cancer. She was only 32 years old. I based the character Lolly on Kitty and found the story flowed easily as I described Lolly’s battle with cancer and her compassion for others. One of the members of the book club said that if Lolly hadn’t had to go through so many hardships, she would not have been a believable character because she was so good. I tend to write about troubled characters who have difficulty doing the right thing (and there are several of those in this book) but I enjoyed writing about someone of integrity and kindness. Kitty gave me the inspiration — and the permission — to do so.
Whenever our writing is fueled by strong emotions whether those emotions are of love or grief or anger, the writing comes easier. Those emotions help us bypass the inner censors and get to the core of what we want to write. (Most of us have written at least one love poem in our lives!) But of course, when writing about emotions that is when we most need to adhere to that old injunction of showing rather than telling. Images and other sensory details help bring those emotions out of us and onto the page.
Here are a couple exercises that will help you get an emotional jumpstart to your writing:
Journal Exercise 1: Choose an emotion (love, hate, fear, etc) and write a prose poem that conveys that emotion without ever using the word for the emotion or using a synonym. For example, if you are writing about anger, don’t switch up and use the word “mad.” Use images, sounds, smells, actions, colors, bodily sensations and whatever else you can think of so that your reader will not just understand the emotion but also feel it.
Journal Exercise 2: Take a sniff of cinnamon or bite a strawberry. Write about the memories and associations that come with the scent and/or taste.