Angry Writing

Today, I’m angry.

I’m not going to say why, because any explanation I could give would be far too tedious and unnecessary. But rest assured, I’m angry. Blindingly, burningly so.

I don’t like to face down a deadline when I’m angry, upset, or stressed about some real life problem. I much prefer to write while calm and collected, with gobs of of empty hours at my disposal.

But that’s the thing about deadlines. They care not a whit about one’s real life circumstances.

So here I am, fuming at several people, wishing this weekly column would go away. But I already missed last week’s post, and two in a row would be inexcusable. Instead of hiding from the world, I’m going to try a bit of advice I read years ago. I’m going to try and transfer the drama to the page.

In her book, The Right to Write, Julia Cameron describes the pain of a very public divorce from director Martin Scorsese, who had run off with another woman:

Forget “They cannot do this to me.” They had done it. The real question was “What was I going to do about it?” How would I “right” things? I would write things, I decided (44).

Cameron then set out to write God’s Will, a film based on her tempestuous marriage and divorce. As additional inspiration, she surrounded herself with news clippings of her husband’s adulterous exploits, creating a writing tool she titled the “Wall of Infamy” (sort of a darker version of my Inspiration Wall):

…I would glance up at the clippings: my husband dancing with his new love–my supposed friend. At the sight of them cheek to cheek, adrenaline would fly straight to my fingers. The smoldering anger and resentment became the ashes for a phoenix to rise from. A day at a time, a page at a time, a glance at a time at my Wall of Infamy and my script pages piled up. Days after the script was finished, my agent sold the script to Paramount.

I have not had the opportunity to read or view God’s Will, but I’m guessing that the script Cameron created, during those dark days of staring at news clippings, is raw and sincere. How could it not be, given the head-on way she faced her pain and rage?

When we write stories inspired by our own lives (in a way, every story ever written, ever), we may tend to give the most sanitized version possible.  We’re likely to paint ourselves, our relationships, and even our struggles in a positive light; after all, our friends and family are going to be reading, and we want them to think we have our act together.

If we wait until we are calm to write, we’re more likely to come up with squeaky-clean, harmless, relatively uninteresting prose.

Writing while angry, on the other hand–the gloves come off, and things will almost definitely get ugly. Ugly, dirty, real, and ultimately–readable.

But even if no studio had picked up God’s Will and no one had ever heard about it, Cameron still did herself a large favor by taking some time each day to transfer her burning fury to the page. What might she have done if she had not found an outlet? Siddhartha Gautama once compared holding onto anger like “grasping a hot coal”; cling to it long enough, and you’ll end up with some very serious burns.

The next time you feel all-engulfing anger, don’t swallow it down or wait for it to go away on it’s own. Use it. Send it to the page. Make it do the work for you.

As I come to the end of this blog post, I wonder if perhaps I could have used some of this space to spin a tale of bitterness and betrayal, starring some of the good folks I know. But my problems are really more suited to a short story than a Magnificent Nose post, so perhaps next time I’ll choose a different outlet.

I say next time, because as of right now, the very act of writing has already made me feel better. And that, at the very least, is something.


Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.

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