Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Mining the Past

I struggled this week with a blog topic.  There are thousands of things to write about, no doubt, but this is a rather painful week for me each year.  This day 12 years ago, my sister died in a terrible car accident up in Vermont.  She left behind her wonderful partner and her 8 month old baby boy, my godson and one of the joys of my life.
It was a day of shock and I hope it remains the worst day of my life, as I can’t imagine having a day more painful than that one.  But these are the things that change us - for better or for worse.  Maybe I started to drink or fell into a horrible, life-immobilizing depression.  Thankfully, neither of those happened.
I’m not sure exactly how, but I managed to survive that year...and the next... and here I am.
So, how on earth does this relate to writing?  Well, we write from personal experience.  It is those experiences that make us who we are and enable us to write with feeling and depth.  If I ever had to write a scene about telling a mother that her other daughter had died, I could.  I know the sound of her agonized words after that.  I know the panic and pain of her partner who shut down at the wake.  I know what it was like to fight for a posthumous adoption for the young baby involved here since this was before the days of marriage equality.  I know what it was like to write and deliver her eulogy while the priest held my hand to give me the strength to do it.
Other things, I can only imagine like divorce or childbirth.  I can only talk to others or observe others and learn the best that I can.  But I can’t write from first-hand experience.
This sort of goes hand-in-hand with the Observation piece I wrote last week.  The best way to describe how a peach feels and tastes is to feel and taste it.  Now, if you have a divorce scene to write I don’t recommend getting divorced just so you can write from first-hand experience!  But tap into your past feelings of fear, loneliness, anger, abandonment, etc. and let that inform your writing.
The collage below is created with pictures of my sister and I growing up.  Judy, I love you and miss you more than words can say! Note: the last picture in the lower right corner of the collage is my sister with her partner and baby at his baptism surrounded by his three godparents.
All that you have been through, both good and bad, can be used to inform your writing.  How have you used your past in your writing?

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