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Using difficult emotions to make your story stronger

Seven months into the year, and I realize I’ve been through so much: the passing of my mother, our two-week remodel that turned into nine-weeks, a mini-family reunion, and both expected and unexpected travel. I’ve had many different stressors and felt a gamut of emotions: sadness, grief, fear, love, joy, fatigue (well, maybe that last one isn’t exactly an emotion, but it should be!)

As I work on my next book—imagining my story and going deeper into my characters—I realize that my seven months have been a blessing, in more ways than one.

In “The 90-Day Novel: Unlock the Story Within,” author Alan Watt writes, “As we write, doubts and fears will almost certainly arise. We don’t have to ignore our feelings. In fact, we can use them. We ask ourselves, “Where does this feeling or situation live in the world of my story?” We can use everything: our fears, our doubts, our joy and our grief.”

Losing my mother was the deepest loss I’ve suffered. Because Alzheimer’s robbed her of the last seven years of her life, I not only grieve for her but also for the time we lost. I grieve for how she was treated by my father during their thirty years of marriage. I grieve for the time she didn’t have with her grandson.

Because the protagonist in my next book also lost her mother, I can use some of these feelings to imagine her suffering. Loss and grief are complicated, often shaded with other emotions like guilt, shame, or even joy. Tapping into these feelings as I explore the world of my story, will bring my story to a deeper, more human level.

What I’ve learned is not to shy away from the hard feelings. As writers we have to be brave and go deep. We do not shy away from what is difficult. If we did, we sure as heck wouldn’t be writers.

Exercise: Make a list of some difficult emotions you’ve experienced. How can you use these in your current or next writing project?

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