“Sure, sure,” you reply. “But let’s say you had eaten Satan’s Bubbling Piss Hot Sauce the night before. How ‘bout then, Sloane?”
After pondering whether or not such a hot sauce exists (and concluding that it must—we can only hope), I’d stand firmly by my decision to spend the day on the porcelain pony. The same rule can be applied to almost any overtly feminine activity, particularly one that involves me having to share my feelings or watch other people cry over bad Hollywood clichés. Yup! I’m that kind of broad.
Here’s a shocker: not all woman are dainty flowers, and not all people—regardless of gender—are bubbling springs of emotion. Some of us are covered with thorns. Not to imply that we’re dangerous, of course. On the contrary—we just don’t rouse easily…emotionally speaking. We’re the women who would rather chew glass than hang out with all the other ladies in the neighborhood, going to malls, meeting up for yoga, crying over the last poorly written chick-flick while exchanging brownie recipes, and you’re the men who see no real meaning in the aforementioned activities. We’re a little closed off (though we allow a select few in), and we’re content to walk to the beat of our own drum, all without feeling the need to purge our feelings all over any innocent bystander. In fact, we often see little need for emotion. On the sunny side of the street, that usually means that when we display emotion, it’s for good reason and it’s genuine.
We’re not odd or strange. We’re just built differently. Our wires fray when exposed to drama and gossip and too many super-touchy feelings. We simply don’t handle it well. We’re the people whose neurons short-circuit when everyone around us is cooing at the latest cat video on Facebook. Unless your cat can perform neuro-surgery or cook me dinner, I don’t really care what it did. Really, most cats are assholes.
Now, let me not paint the wrong impression. We’re not incapable of feeling and expressing emotion, but we don’t pass it out like Halloween candy, either. It’s reserved for those rare occasions in which it’s called for. And movies? We can cry at those…once in a blue moon. I bawled my eyes out at the end of WARRIOR. Two badass brothers, forced to beat the shit out of one another.
“I love you, Tommy! I love you.”
Jesus! That was a wicked haht-wrencha.
Yup, we can break the damn and let it all flow. It’s just a rare sighting, and it takes a pretty spectacular person to stir our hearts. For me, it’s my husband and our daughters. I’m rock solid and hard as nails when need be, but they pull out the blubbering fool in me. They can tap into my heart like nothing else on earth can, and they can—and often do—bring me to tears of absolute joy in one second flat. They’re my bank of emotional experiences—they’re the people who taught me to love and how to be loved. As is the case for most children who grew up in an abusive home, my childhood didn’t exactly afford me the opportunity to grow emotionally. At least not in a healthy, constructive way. I had to learn that later in life. Hell, maybe that’s why I laugh at other people so much. Then again, maybe most people are genuinely stupid. Yeah…that’s definitely it.
So, what does all this have to do with writing? Well, I’m glad you asked (okay, you didn’t—whatever). This has a lot to do with writing, provided you’re A) a writer B) emotionally constipated.
We writers are meant to tap into our emotional vaults, like bleeding out a major artery. We are meant to drown our readers in words that hold the power to move them and the insight to transport them to another world, and we’re the sole creators of those fictitious worlds in which our readers ask to be taken. We speak for our characters, and we—all on our own—represent the emotional aspects of every experience our characters have. To cut to the point: yes, a writer must hold the ability to stir their reader, to eloquently and realistically convey the human experience and all that it entails. But for some, I imagine this becomes a wee bit problematic.
There are genres far better suited for those writers who aren’t walking-talking treasure troves of emotion. Horror, suspense, thriller, mystery, sci-fi…just to name a few. These particular genres aren’t full of books teaming with nothing but emotional gobbledygook, but that’s not to suggest that you can avoid emotion completely. That, my dear emotionally-plugged-up writer, is impossible. Plainly put: YOU CAN’T WRITE WITHOUT TAPPING INTO YOUR CORE—YOUR EMOTIONS.
Writing is, after all, all about morphing your experiences into many different stories; breathing life into fictitious portrayals of various aspects of your life. From there, a story can go anywhere, but it means ripping off scabs and exposing wounds. It requires digging around in the proverbial closet and extracting meaning from the world around you and the memories you’ve made within it. Your stories are an extension of you, and any version of you that’s void of depth and emotion won’t pull a reader in. You have to meet them there, in the middle, where it’s raw and real and powerful. A reader can smell disingenuous bullshit from a mile away.
Now for the tricky part: how is an emotionally constipated writer meant to unearth all those icky feelings? Well, first remember that revealing your emotions and putting them on paper doesn’t mean you have to be cheesy. I think many of us dark, twisted souls confuse the two. There’s romance, there’s cheese, and there’s the nitty-gritty of it all. One really has nothing to do with the other, so don’t confuse them. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that you must produce fluffy prose, full of sweet, frilly words. The your-eyes-are-like-an-eternal-slumber-under-a cloak-of-singing-stars bullshit. Yeah…no. Fear not. You don’t have to pluck away at your dignity. In fact, leave that style of writing to the other professionals. Syrupy sweet writing is best left in the capable hands of songwriters and poets.
What you must do—and this really is it—is be real. Sounds too simple, right? Right. But it’s true. That’s the big shebang.
Think about what moves people, what moves you, even if you’re as heavy as a mountain. It’s not softly sweetened teardrops and gypsy moons (whatever in the hell that flowery nonsense means). What moves people is down-in-the-muck emotion. It’s the authentic, genuine exchange of honest-to-goodness experiences. It’s a baby’s smile or a child’s laughter. It’s the curve of a woman’s back or the unbridled passion of a man in love. It’s also the anguish of death and the sorrow of loss. It’s the agony of loneliness and the sting of betrayal. It’s the pain we all sustain but so infrequently discuss. It’s any simple thing that seems too mundane to write about. Those, constipated writer, are the things that tap into a reader’s heart and stir them, keeping them up until the early morning hours, devouring your book. Simplicity and authenticity—that’s it. Look at the characters Tommy and Brendan in WARRIOR. There’s nothing complex about the plot or the writing. Both brothers need to win a fight worth a large sum of money—money they both have very admirable but simple plans for. In the end, they have to fight each other. Nothing complicated about that, but it’s moving. Right out of the gate, everybody with a sibling felt a tug on his or her heartstrings. It was no SCHINDLER’S LIST, but it accomplished what it set out to do.
It’s in these ordinary life moments that we find the material needed to pull the reader in. It’s why we love comedians who build their sets around basic, relatable subject matter. There we are, laughing our asses off, nodding along, saying, “That’s so true!” We’re simple creatures, really. We bond over the most universal things. As a writer, it’s your job to paint simplicity with vivid colors. If you can’t muster whimsical prose, find these nuggets of truth and use them. Be real! No one wants whimsical prose, anyway. We want a punch in the face.
Do yourself a favor and think of your computer (or whatever you write on) as your best friend, the one person you share everything with. If that doesn’t work, think of it as your diary. After all, no one’s going to see what you’re writing unless you want them to, so you’ve got nothing to lose. Treat is as a vessel to pour yourself into, then build from there.
To wrap this up, remember that your secret weapon—your emotional laxative—is truth. If you’re real, no one can accuse you of delivering anything less than magic. We can’t all be Robert Frost, so let us just be the most genuine version of ourselves that we can be. Feelings can’t be wrong—but they can be disingenuous. Write from a place of honesty and you will find a home with your readers.