The Key to Writing When You’re too Freaked Out to Write (Gray Days, Part 2)

Tuesday, September 01, 2020


I have to admit that I tried a number of different titles for this post. At one point, it was “Gray Days, Part 2” since it continues Jeanine’s post about pushing through those gray days to write. “Freaked out” just seems so undignified and a bit melodramatic. But 2020? Undignified and melodramatic barely scratch the surface. 


Yet, there have been high points. I hope some of you are Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) members who registered for the Summer Spectacular. One of the best sessions was a conversation between Jane Yolen and her daughter and co-author Heidi Stemple. 


Someone asked Jane how she manages to write during the pandemic. How does she write when the world is falling apart? Jane is infamous for her butt-in-chair attitude to writing. If you aren’t familiar with butt-in-chair, to write you must put your butt in the chair. This is solid advice but given the joy that is 2020 a more elaborate answer was needed. 


Jane advised listeners to take the negative emotion they are feeling and use it in a story. She explained that it doesn’t have to be a story about coronavirus or violence. Instead use this emotion to create a story on another topic but use that emotion to its fullest. 


One opportunity to give this a try came a few weeks ago when my dad was in the hospital. The doctor wanted to give him a quick cognitive test so he asked Dad “Do you know who Sue is?” After a salty exchange with my father who was mad he had been woken up for this nonsense, I told the doctor there are three women named Sue on just that side of the family. “How would I have known that?” Hmm. Ask a question? Find things out? 


It was frustrating to know that Dad could have gotten a worse evaluation based on assumptions made by someone who doesn’t know us. I took that frustration and wrote “Four Freddies” a picture book about three cousins who are named after their grandad. And, yes. That’s how you spell Freddie in my family. See? All you had to do was ask. 


My second opportunity to try Jane’s technique came from Dad’s second hospital stay of the summer. Someone lost their cool which translated into days of hate-filled, threatening messages cc’ed to five different people.  


Where to go with this? First I had to unravel the tangle of negative emotion. It didn’t take long to pull out judgement, bullying, and condescension. To my surprise, the whole thing reminded me of dealing with an alcoholic relative who would get mad when you wouldn’t drink with him. It is a far cry from the original events, but the emotion gave rise to a piece of flash fiction called “Day by Day.” 


2020 is giving us all a lot to process. As writers, one of the best ways we have to process what we are dealing with is by writing. The best part? It doesn’t have to resemble our present reality in any way except the emotion.


--SueBE


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 25 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 7, 2020) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins September 7, 2020). 

10 comments:

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Sue, I am so glad you wrote "Gray Days, Part 2." I do believe that our negative emotions can be used to ignite a flame in our stories, adding more depth, and authenticity to them. Yes, 2020 is definitely giving us alot to process and I think we can remain sane by using the gift we have all been blessed with, to write, to get through the process in whatever way we deem fit. "Four Freddies," sounds like an awesome picture book by the way, and to think it was born out of frustration. I hope your Dad is doing well and send healing well wishes his way.

Sioux Roslawski said...

Sue--There's no shortage--these last four years--of anger and frustration. I like the idea of using it to fuel a story.

Thanks, Sue.

Angela said...

Sue, I love how you turned these feelings of frustration into art! Writers have always written during hard times of illness, war, and so on. It can be powerful fuel for art and infuse even more meaning (and certainly emotion like Jane said!) into our writing. I'm thrilled you wrote a flash fiction, and your PB sounds great. I loved the last one you showed me.

Mike just went back into the hospital two days ago and is probably going to be there for another 10+ days. There's still no hospital visitations here. =/ Luckily my pop is staying with me right now so he can help with my FIL and my cat. Jazzy has kidney disease, and we have to give her subcutaneous fluids through an IV drip every day, and she squirms. Poor thing! I hope your dad is doing better. Hugs <3

Margo Dill said...

Sue:
This is really great advice and nothing I really thought about doing before. I mean, yes, writing based on reality, but more taking the emotion from the situation and putting it in a new situation that was a better story. Anyway, I love this. I hope I can use it soon. Thanks for this post! (My mom in hospital twice during the pandemic. I feel for you!)

Nicole Pyles said...

Oh I love this advice!! Sometimes it takes removal from a situation to really write about it (like my last day job was super stressful but it manifested into several short stories after I left!). I may have more to say about this year once we're knee deep into 2020, but I have made attempts to manifest the feelings into fiction. Also, sometimes in a moment of pure emotion, if I can wrangle it in, I end up writing some of my purest poetry. That requires me to step outside my steeping pile of misery, but it's possible!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Jeanine,
When I realized that I could write a whole post in the comment section of YOUR post, I knew what I need to write about.

Sioux,
I guess we should think of these frustrations as emotional story starters.

Angela,
So sorry to hear that Mike is back in the hospital! But also glad that you've got some help at home. Poor cat! Four Freddies is really different from the last one you saw. For one thing it is WAY longer at something like 500 words.

Margo,
Your Mom too? What the heck is going on here? I hope she's doing much better.

Nicole,
I think you are 100% right. I couldn't write about these situations yet, but a story with the same emotion? That I can do.

Dad seems to be doing better. Fingers crossed! Crud, I had better run. The senior cat must lay down on my desk and is trying to get comfortable on the base of the typing stand. She's going to start bull dozing the desk in a moment... Hmm. Can I use this in a story?

Renee Roberson said...

Hmmm . . . reading this I may need to write a flash story about a magazine editor and the terrible, no good, horrible, very bad day she's having. From finding out a writer misspelled someone's name wrong in an article and me not catching it, to someone else nitpicking my grammar in an e-mail chain, to having another subject of a feature article tell me the writer had "not turned in the version she approved" (um, that's not our policy), I'm about done for today. Glad to hear you were able to channel your frustrations so creatively!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Renee,
Sorry to hear about your frustrations. I worked for a publication that required all quotes to be "approved." Normally it was no big deal but every now and again someone would give a slap-dash interview and then fail to recognize anything they had said.

Hope things have chilled out by now!
--SueBE

Cathy C. Hall said...

Now, see? I'm late catching up with my Muffin posts but the universe knew I needed to read this today! Very good advice from you AND Jane.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Cathy,
Thank you! It is advice that keeps on giving - roughed out a poem this weekend and part of another. Once the inspiration starts...
--SueBE

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