If you’re like me, you don’t like bad shit happening. People you care about getting sick, someone you thought you could trust hurting you, friends turning to foes, losing your job for no good reason. That kind of stuff can put you in a bad mood, make you feel really low. Life can be tough.
Sometimes, it can help to jot down how it feels – it’s called “emotional writing”. Letting out pain, anger, frustration and sadness might seem strange at first, but it’s a good thing – and if you’re self-conscious about anyone knowing about it, you can always do it secretly in a locked room. Your heart will be healthier in the long run. Your mood will improve. Your stomach won’t tighten up and ache. Your bowels will be kinder to you.
Lead singer of Green Day, Billie Joe Armstrong, who suffered panic attacks and insomnia as a young man, wrote the song, Basket Case to release the pressure of anxiety and explore “that feeling you’re going crazy”. He said writing songs was, “the only way I knew how to deal with it.”
Since I became a writer, I’ve had much better sleeps, too. Taking the misery of bad experiences and turning them around into something people can enjoy, laugh about or use in some meaningful way has turned me around as a person. I used to sit and brood, thinking over the unpleasant things people had said or done in the heat of the moment. I used to worry about work going tits up and family problems and why my friend hadn’t called in a week. I used to think back over some of the sad stuff that happened to me as a kid – like leaving the house I loved, seeing my grandfather die and losing my best friend – but writing changed all that. I started to put those feelings, those memories, those concerns into words on a page and something incredible began to happen.
All the negatives began to morph, cathartically, into positives.
I poured the feelings of sadness and frustration from various relationship problems into This Is Where You Join Me, where a young woman loses everything in a single moment, only to discover, as she lies there in a hospital bed, that she is able to hear what people are saying, but cannot communicate back – and that her partner has been lying to her. Having her figure out what she plans to do next is one of the coolest things I’ve ever had the chance to write about.
In Never More Than 24 Hours, I was trying to get over the sadness of losing my best friend in childhood because my family moved house. Leanne had a really tough family environment, surrounded by four older brothers who were bullies and thieves and they all had to suffer at the hands of an alcoholic dad. All that time, I realised I’d buried this horrible feeling that I’d let her down by leaving the community, but it was my family’s choice, not mine. Plus, deep down, I always knew she had what it took to fight back.
Later, the anger and bitterness I felt at having a bad boss, the sleepless nights he caused – I can still hear his backstabbing comments and nasty jokes right now – came out singing and stinging in office comedy, From the Horse’s Mouth, the funniest, sickest thing I’ve ever put on paper. I had such a ball making that up. I figured, if he can do all those mean things to people, I can write this.
When I created Even the Young Can Be Warriors, what I was actually doing was metabolising deep-rooted feelings surrounding the fear I’d had as a child that my freedom might be taken away from me, that I wouldn’t be allowed to write stories one day or that my imagination might just ‘stop’. I also explored the desire some people have to invent imaginary friends that can alleviate their loneliness.
Those stories became the friends I lost, the comforting secret place I needed, the supportive boss who cared, the unconditional-love relationship. I unleashed tears, joy, anger and fun, sometimes all in one sitting and the result surprised me. Instead of being controlled by past worlds, I was inventing them. Rather than fearing what might happen next, I planned what I wanted to happen. In fictional terms, I made friends with the people I liked and turned my back on the ones I didn’t. Each story gave me a new escape route, a reason to enjoy life, a way of trapping all the sad, crappy, ugly stuff in the past and opening up to a brighter future.
You might also enjoy finding out more about why I think book love is the most exciting life, this post about how to make the truth more energetic, scary or heartbreaking, or you can discover your unique reading fingerprint.