On Writing As Therapy

This post is one of the more personal ones I’ve written, but I wanted to address the topic, because I’ve learned through the years that writing as a way of dealing with my troubles and insecurities is such a huge part of who I am and why I ended up pursuing my dream of being a writer beyond one or two novels or short stories.

I’m in the process right now of editing “The King’s Sons,” the last chapter in my Herezoth trilogy. I wrote the novel early in 2012 and wrapped it up around the July 4th holiday. And I’m editing scene after scene right now and just being blown away and how much the book reflects the exact issues I am dealing with in my life right now.

I’ve been a graduate student my entire adult life. I study Spanish literature, and I am (or was) pursuing a doctorate because I always thought I wanted to be a professor for a day job. Well, it turned out this path was not everything I thought it was. I can recognize that graduate school is no longer for me, so I’m leaving it behind, but I’m worried about succeeding in the “real world.” I’m living in Chicago, and while I’m not happy here and hate the city and the cold, I’m worried I won’t feel like I fit in at home once I return there (New Orleans). I’m worried I’ll find things, and people, changed when I go back. I visit regularly, but that’s different from living there, and I haven’t really lived there since 2003. That’s ten years.

So, with that background, I find myself editing “The King’s Sons.” Let me introduce you to two of the characters:

FRANCIE RAFE: a member of the king’s Magic Council. After an assault by a group of individuals with a grudge against that institution, she realizes she has to leave her job for a variety of reasons. She has no place to go, feels unfit for other work, and has nothing but being beat down to show for the years she worked so hard to serve the kingdom. She suffers a complete personal crisis.

KANSTEN CASON: born and raised in Traigland, she hates Traigland, and has always dreamed of going to Herezoth, where both her parents were born and raised. She feels insecure comparing herself to her siblings, because they all have magic, and upon reaching Herezoth, is upset to realize the place is not what she thought it would be and she won’t find a home there like she hoped.

I’m reading the scenes where these characters feature, and I’m blown away at how their emotions line up frighteningly close to what mine are, even when the situations they’re facing are very different from mine. When I put those characters in those situations, I  think I was trying to see them work through their issues to assure myself that I would come to terms with mine and that there are definitely other people–TONS of people–in the world feeling like they don’t fit in and unsure what the next step to take in their lives should be.

There you go: writing as therapy. Writing as soul-searching and self-exploration. I’ve found this to be the case in every novel I’ve written, to a greater or lesser degree. Whatever my problems are, whatever I’m worried about or stressing about, it all shows up distorted in my work in progress of the period. And somehow, it continues to shock me when I start editing and I notice that. I guess that’s why I’ll always be a writer: it’s my way of dealing with the unpleasant side of life. Some might call it an escape, but it isn’t. By writing, I’m figuring out how to address and confront the things that need adjusting in my day to day existence, and that’s healthy.

I’m curious: has anyone else noticed something similar about their own writing? You don’t need to go into details, for sure–it’s a personal subject–I’m just wondering if you find your problems popping up in your fiction.

(One more plug: The first novel in my Herezoth trilogy, The Crimson League, is only 99 cents through January 11th. The second novel, The Magic Council, is FREE through January 11th. If you’re interesting in some cheap/free reads, feel free to check them out at the links provided.)

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18 responses to “On Writing As Therapy

  1. Since i ahave started writing fiction, i have noticed my own problems surfacing but only after my husband pointed it out to me.

  2. Although it’s not a conscious thing, I definitely see my characters deal with big issues I struggle with in real life.

    I really feel for you plotting your new life course. I went through the same thing a few years when we moved back to NZ from London. For quite a while I felt like I was in some weird time-shift (that’s the fantasy writer in me) – where things looked the same, but everyone / thing seemed to have changed subtly. Of course it was me that had changed the most. But you will also find lots of great new opportunites too – all the best!

    • Thanks Raewyn! It’s a new course but I know in my heart it’s the right thing for me to be doing, so I feel good about it. I have a wonderful and supportive family down there, and I know things will fall into place. Wow…. I can imagine that was a HUGE change for you, from London back to NZ!

  3. Absolutely! But I had to complete three major projects before I noticed a pattern, and was I ever surprised. The theme of all three centered around an “issue” I never thought was part of my life. Shortly after that, I was invited to a Q&A with Robert Stone, who was at the top of the charts at the time. So I asked him if he’d discovered anything about himself through his writing that surprised him. His reaction was as if I’d punched him in the gut. He backed away from the podium, took a moment to compose himself, then simply said, “Yes, next question.” I guess we’re not the only ones 🙂

    That was when I was in university and writing like a fiend, had an agent and all that other happy hoo-ha. I’ve been away from writing a long time and used NaNo in 2011 as a kickstart into the habit. I was 15,000 words in when I realized I was writing about my perception of a neighbor who is so much like my mother I can’t be around him long. It really knocked me for a loop and I couldn’t write for nearly a week. I guess it’s an occupational hazard. My way around it is writing for the reader, fulfilling their needs. Stephanie Meyers did this brilliantly, and everything since her Twilight sage has been fan fiction. Tap into the fears and struggles of your readers, and you’ve got one heck of an audience. And you’re most likely sitting in the front row with them. (BTW, what I think she tapped into is the struggle we’re all facing with our darker side and how we handle it during extremely difficult circumstances–how do we survive without hurting others when there seems to be no other options.)

    • Wow, what an anecdote!!! Occupation hazard for sure! Thanks for sharing. Writing for the audience is one possibility, for sure, to get around those hang-ups. I don’t know if that would be possible for me–I need to write for me, need to craft stories that interest me more than anything else–but other people might find writing with an audience in mind helpful. Thanks again, Cyd! It’s just alarming how much of us creeps into our tales.

      • It is, isn’t it? And if we write down to the very marrow of our personal truth, we find we share so much with others. We have deep and basic needs that we al share. If we write past our issues to the back side of those issues, we find the rest of humanity standing with us.

  4. I’m all over my stories. I try not to be, but it’s pointless. When I’m writing I find that a bit of my personality or my beliefs slip into a character’s dialog or alters the original plan I had for that character. Anyone who personal knows me could guess that I was the writer of my book just from reading a few pages of it. I have a certain tone that everyone knows me for and it’s all over my book.

    • That happens to us all, and I don’t think that’s necessary a bad thing, as long as your characters aren’t all the same person 🙂 Let different pieces of you shine through in different people, and you’re set!

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