By Shelley Widhalm
Writing is like confronting your soul.
It digs to let the subconscious come forward, while the conscious part of the mind thought it simply was taking notes and plotting out the story. The subconscious has things to say you didn’t necessarily know about or were too busy to give any attention to … until you have no choice but to listen.
The inside stuff comes out in unexpected ways exposing what you won’t admit in your head. Even if your writing is all about the characters, plot and setting that doesn’t seem like you, there is a piece of you in the words that unravel into the form of story.
The unraveling happened to me when I wrote my young adult novel, “In the Grace of Beautiful Stars.” Fifteen-year-old Grace Elliott, my main character, faces impeding homelessness and tries to save her family through money finding. She wonders if her ability to find fives, tens and twenties is a gift, a coincidence or something she’s manifesting.
While writing the book, I consciously looked for money and found coins and dollar bills, but afterward realized I was searching for more. I’d let life dictate how things happen to me, taking jobs and making decisions because I thought that was all I could get. I wasn’t confident even if I had a mostly comfortable childhood.
At a young age, Grace worked hard to save herself and her younger sister, who she’d protect to the death like the sister pair in The Hunger Games. I feel guilty I had teased my younger brother—I dressed him up in girl clothes and made him play my girly games. I left him out when my girlfriends came over. I sent him away with candy.
The brother who as an adult I adore married last weekend, and the time leading up to it, I felt jealous and sad and questioned what our family will be like now.
I thought about my mother, too, and how I’d been angry with her when I was a teen and then in my thirties and for a spot in my forties. She didn’t deserve my dragging up the past, but like Grace, I had mother issues over things that, really, had more to do with me. And then once I realized what I was doing, I had to forgive myself for being angry with her.
I realized as I wrote Grace and revised her story, my subconscious wanted to come out and tell me to collect, not money, but self-love, self-worth and self-value despite what life does on the outside. It let me know I don’t have to be an adult with mommy, money and fear issues.
The Emotional Center
What I’d done is “Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. … Tell the truth as you understand it. … Truth is always subversive,” as Anne Lamott said in Bird by Bird.
Writing is an emotional experience that causes joy and pain and love, and as you write, or after, you wonder what exactly happened. You ask yourself, “Why do these words cause me to feel things I didn’t know where inside and now are outside?”
Writing gives you the ability to see new things. And to feel, and to describe and hear and absorb.
Writing is emotional, intellectual and an interior process. We, as writers, need to tell our truths and our stories. We need to be at a place of perspective, so we can write about it, even if it’s fiction, because writing comes out of that center and our knowledge and experience.