but you can read the story of Mary Kay’s life in her biography, which has continued her quest to empower women.
Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way and other books on the writing life, has described how she funneled her anger and pain over a divorce into her writing. That isn’t the only way she’s used anger in her work. “‘Julie hates bullies’ has been a determining factor in my writing career,” she wrote in Walking in This World. “Arguably, my book The Artist’s Way was written from the same protective impulse as punching out the schoolyard bully. Artist abuse makes me furious…so I did something about it.”
As authors, we are accustomed to using things that happen in our lives and the lives of those close to us as story elements. Yet sometimes when we experience extremely difficult situations, the creativity is clogged by our experience, as noted above.
One way various NINC members have released anger of betrayal by a former spouse, boss, friend, agent or editor is by making the offending person a murder victim in a story—under an assumed name, of course.
NINC member Debra Holland recently “had two very upsetting emotional experiences—one with a happy ending, and one that’s not. As part of my way of processing my feelings, I’ve found myself allowing the motions to generate story ideas.”
Debra took her Shetland Sheepdog, Oreo, to spend a day with her boyfriend, Don, on his boat that is kept on a channel leading to the ocean. “Don was reluctant about bringing Oreo, saying we didn’t have water wings for her. I dismissed his concerns. Oreo hates water, and I had no fears that she’d go in.
While Don was parking the car, Debra took Oreo to the boat, left Oreo there and headed back to use the restroom on shore. When she returned to the boat, Oreo was gone.
“Terrified, I started calling her, searching through the boat. Then I climbed off the boat and ran up the dock, thinking she’d made her way to land. Don arrived, and he immediately started looking for her on the water. On the verge of tears, I called her name over and over, a note of panic in my voice. I asked some people walking by if they’d seen her. Finally, someone yelled out from the other dock across from us, “She’s in the water!” I ran to the edge of a boat slip, and saw her swimming in the area between the two docks. She was obviously tired, but headed toward the sound of my voice. I’d never been so relieved in my life.
“For a few minutes, all I could think of was how haunted I would have been if I’d lost her through my own carelessness. My life would have changed, and it would have taken me a long time to get over the guilt and pain of losing my baby. But since I’m a crisis counselor, I know better than to indulge in those kind of thoughts for long. I forced myself to dwell on the fact that Oreo was safe.
“I’ve learned as a writer, no experience, and especially no emotion, is ever wasted. Before I drifted off to sleep, with a damp dog pressed against my leg, I promised myself that I’d find a way to use my intense emotions in a story. Since my books are set in 1890s Montana, an ocean isn’t conveniently nearby. But rivers are.”
Soon after Oreo’s scary swim, tragedy hit Debra’s family. “My cousin, Mindy, lives with me. On June 11, her 20-year-old daughter, Tanya, was hit by a car and killed. You can imagine the shock and grief our family is experiencing, both individually and collectively.
“My emotions are too raw and painful to pour into a story at this time. But before Tanya’s death, I was already toying with a short story about parents who lose their daughter, then later receive a special Christmas gift. In the last week, I’ve had a few thoughts about making the character of the daughter more like Tanya, and I certainly will be able to draw from my own grief when I write the story.
“Somehow the thought that Tanya will be my muse brings me comfort—perhaps because it’s a way to immortalize her. She definitely would have liked that. This story will be an act of love from me to her…and perhaps from her to me. I also intend to dedicate the story to her: Tanya Lauralynn Freed, 1992-2012.
“I can’t write Tanya’s story yet. But I will.”
As Debra’s experience shows, sometimes we need time to heal from a situation to a point where using the experience in our writing can continue that healing.
During an especially painful experience in my own life, I used a journal to record my emotional journey.
The journal helped me through the healing process, and was a record for later when I would have the emotional distance to use the experience in story. Continued on page 17