The cathartic experience…

You often hear writers, artists and musicians talking about the act of catharsis, expressed through their art. The nailing down, and exorcism, of some particularly bad experience, one that, for whatever reason, has shaken them to their cores. We’ve all had them: the death of a loved one or a close friend (especially when they’ve gone ‘before their time’), the end of a relationship, an accident or being betrayed by someone you trusted. An experience that becomes deeply embedded in the psyche, or perhaps makes us unwillingly reassess things or see them in a decidedly darker light, or changes our opinions of certain people. Experiences that have the power to change US, and not always in good ways.

Some people simply bear the pain and anguish, internalising it. Some people go to see therapists, to unburden themselves. Yet others find some spiritual path, seeking to find answers to the basic imponderables. But there are others, like those involved in the creative arts, who find more immediate means by which to mitigate the effects of the shock. Writing, painting and thrashing out a song or two are all methods used by such individuals, to help them understand what is happening to them and also to assuage the tempest raging inside them.

Why have I brought up this subject? Over the last week, I have been writing a story, The Ghost of Me, based on a memory that, whilst not immediately injurious to my mental health, nevertheless forms an important part of who I am and has affected my present. I mentioned that I was going to be writing the story in a previous blog, posted some days ago: the first draft has now been written and in the hands of some of my pre-readers, just to get some feedback on what I have come up with. Great comments on it so far, which is a good sign; what’s more important however, is what the writing of it has done for me.

I am still loath to divulge details of the tale just yet, because I still need to write a second (and, no doubt, a third and fourth) draft, and I desperately want to keep inside me, undiluted, the power inherent in the very nature of the story. I want people to feel that power, that raw emotion that drives it along. Even though the incident it’s based around happened just over twenty years ago, it doesn’t mean that its effects have necessarily been weakened by time. If anything, whenever I remember anything about it, it still dredges up strong negative thoughts and feelings.

Writing about it, putting it into a fictional context, has helped me come to terms with it and its ultimate meaning. I still don’t understand the motivations behind what my grandfather did, but I have let go of the anger and irritation that it left behind. Besides which, all the main players in the story, apart from my brother and I, are now dead: so explanations will never be forthcoming in this life. No use expending vauable energy on something so unproductive. Better, I think, to let it go and get on with something more worthwhile.

It has also served another purpose: ending a writing drought. During the last six weeks, I have started more stories than at any other time and yet yesterday’s tale was the first one in that period where I managed to actually complete. Like any author, I was beginning to think my mojo had disappeared, maybe for good. Thankfully, I needn’t have worried. It returned with a vengeance, inspiring me to put down 4016 words of it in one go, and I wrote the remaining 1500 or so yesterday. Okay, so it still needs a fair bit of work and a rewrite, which I will now leave until after FCon this weekend, but the essence of the tale is all there. There are different formats to think about, how best to distil the emotions and feelings, how best to hone in on what I want people to empathise with.

If nothing else, it’s reignited a little of my confidence about the story writing, as well as shown me that I can write well and tell a powerful story. It’s also underlined just how effective  bringing in experiences and memories from real-life can be, enhancing and injecting a certain strength and quality into one’s writing. On top of that, it’s helped in a way that I found both unexpected and very pleasing. Best of all, it means that my Muse was only taking a short holiday, and I am immensely relieved about that. Furthermore, I shall definitely be travelling the rarely-visited country of my past again, and extrapolating ideas and stories from what I see there. Which leaves me wondering where such an exercise will ultimately lead me…. =)

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9 Responses to “The cathartic experience…”

  1. I’ve said it before but I think essentially this is what it’s all about. All writing is symbolic autobiography, whether we admit it or not. Face things or not. Dark things about ourselves and others. Thanks for your courage. Simon, as a true writer you need to go there, I am glad it got you through the block, and I look forward to the honour of reading it.

  2. Are you coming to the GET REAL Panel at 10.30 Friday – this is what we will be discussing, in a way. I would love you to be there.

  3. Yes. This is what the Get Real panel is all about. Someone made a comment about the opening of a story of mine once where a woman tries to come to terms with depression (loss in my case) and said who on earth would want to read about that. The truth is that some people want empathy, they want the truth and not to be told that everything is fine in their fictional worlds.

  4. Well said, Ally. Let’s hold on the discussion till tomorrow night. REALLY looking forward to it. Simon, maybe you could start the Q&A? I’m excited now.

  5. Looking forward to the story Simon, sounds like it should be powerful.

    I’m hoping I’ll have enough energy to make it to the Get Real panel too.

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