Using Real Life Angst in Writing

Real Life might get in a writer’s way. In fact, that’s the common complaint for those of us who write on the sly. Commitments are a bitch. Time is a precious commodity; making time to write is a monumental task, up there with moving mountains with a hand shovel and ants carrying a thousand times their weight. But Real Life does provide a wealth of opportunity for the writer, especially if your Real Life situations involve a lot of grief and angst.

Certainly, Real Life can be ugly. No one wants to experience, pain, heartbreak, financial distress, loss, failing health, death and/or any other number of things that can cause the mind to go crazy and the heart to palpitate.

I’m only mentioning this because there have been a lot of trying personal setbacks I’ve had to deal with in the last month or so. It’s not just the holidays, although for some reason, Christmas seems to bring out either the best or the worst in people – usually the worst. It’s not the upcoming birthday, the date on the calendar wagging an accusatory finger at me. (F*** off, birthday.) It’s not the SAD I’m experiencing, although the revelation that the Detroit metro area only sees about 70 days of sunshine per year is enough to make me jump out of my window (where I would land on the sidewalk, broken but not dead). It’s not the recent full moon, or the feeling I have that the stars are not aligned in my favor this year. (I saw 2012. We’re doomed. Although John Cusack can save me any day. In fact, I’d prefer John Cusack over any superhero out there. Please send John Cusack.)

When I started out writing poetry, I found using my personal anguish as a creative outlet was extremely therapeutic. Plus, the best writing is sprung from disaster. I don’t know about the “real” poets out there, but my best poetry was born out of hardship and anxiety. It was the case then and is probably so now that I can’t write poetry at all when I’m happy.

Writing prose is a little different, but not much. I have to be manic to write sassy stuff. It helps if I’m majorly pissed off when I write opinion pieces. And I must always be in the throes of a near meltdown to write anything else.

There’s a fine way of incorporating your heavy heart into your writing.

First tip: get a notebook. I’m partial to small ones that can fit in my bag. These days I like pretty ones, although it doesn’t really matter what the cover looks like. Carry it and a pen with you at all times.

Second tip: at the apex of your distress, whip out the notebook and begin to jot a few things down. These don’t have to be complete sentences. They don’t even have to be pretty thoughts, just record. How does your heart feel? Can you breathe at all? Does your head hurt?

Third tip: expand on your observations. If you felt like crying, what prevented you? If you did break down and sob, what did that feel like? Try not to use the old cliches, like “it felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.” Find a new way to describe your discomfort. Play with words; your thesaurus can be a goldmine, but not until you get out the pick axe and start digging.

I’m employing this technique right now to enhance the emotional description I’d already laid down. It is more likely that you’ll take your notebook and tuck it away, like I did – until I’d unearthed it.

Make use of your angst. It’s a valuable tool.


2 Responses

  1. I, too, do my best writing when I am depressed. Especially poetry.

  2. If I could figure out how to send JC, I would!!! It’s good that you’re not partial to Daniel Craig or Mark Wahlberg (I might have to fight you for one of them 🙂

    True words about Real Life. xx, Laura

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