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Your Heart’s Been Skewered. When Is It Okay To Write About It?

Jessica Digiacinto / Thursday, March 11, 2010 Comments Off

JoanDidion_051230123023263_wideweb__300x440Writing about heartbreak is supposed to be the writer’s forte.  It’s something most people just expect.  Writers have the unique ability to turn a heart-smashing, psyche-damaging event into something beautiful and moving.  Right?

Well, maybe.  But we’re also human, so we have to go through that heart-smashing, psyche-damaging event just as much as the next person.  We have to get through the days where we can’t get out of bed, where we can’t listen to the radio because a specific song might remind us of someone or something…basically, a writer’s time frame of emotional healing is not superhuman.  Perhaps we notice tiny details and jot them down so we can remember them later, but writing about the heartbreak while it’s still fresh is probably not something even the greatest Writers can manage.

Because, imagine it.  Imagine trying to take something that feels so one-sided, so close to you, and putting it down on paper objectively.  It wouldn’t be possible.  The small injustices would still be crawling underneath your skin, blinding you to how things really went down.

The question then becomes, when is it okay to write about heartbreak?  When is it okay to turn our deepest tragedy (or even a minor one) into our greatest work?

Is it time to write about the story when, as one writer puts it, “you don’t need to tell it anymore“?  When the emotional pull of the events no longer control you or compel you to blurt them out to complete strangers at a party?  Tackling something so large and trying to wrestle it onto the page is hard enough, imagine doing it while you’re still undecided about how you feel?

Even Joan Didion, who wrote one of the most beautiful books (in my small opinion) about one of the biggest life tragedies one can ever face, had to take time between the sadness and the writing. Didion’s tragedy may be the kind that never truly leaves the nervous system, but even she knew that waiting until it settled, just a little, was the right thing to do.

When heartbreak no longer “defines who you are,” it’s time to write about it.  Until then, you’ll probably never be able to retell the events in a way that’s fair, because your emotions will be the things that push your fingers on the keys, forcing your creativity to take a back seat to pain.

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[Via The Rumpus]

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  • http://www.litdrift.com JK Evanczuk

    It’s really a paradox; for me, anyway, writing is my therapy for dealing with pain and emotional upset, to somehow make sense of it and find a way to turn a negative experience into a positive one. But I think you’ve got a great point about only writing when you’re not so emotionally invested. I guess the solution would be to write a rough draft when you’re feeling down and revisit it once you’ve healed?

  • S.Crow

    My best advice about writing about heartbreak:

    Write in the passion of the moment, in the greatest detail you can manage.

    EDIT after the passion has passed and you can be objective without driving yourself completely insane about every cut.

  • Jessica Digiacinto

    S.Crow: I totally agree. Editing after the fact = super important.

  • Jess D.

    Great article! I totally agree with this. I remember in all of my creative writing courses my professors telling me to make sure I have “distanced myself from the heartbreak.” There needs to be space and time between you and the distress. I thought that was great advice. =]

  • http://almanaccoamericano.com/2010/03/11/almanacco-del-giorno-11-mar-2010/ Almanacco del Giorno – 11 Mar. 2010 « Almanacco Americano

    [...] Lit Drift – When is it ok to write about heartbreak [...]

  • http://bookshopstop.com/?p=1048 Online Book Store and News – In the News: Doctors Reading Tolstoy, Watching Married People Fight

    [...] When is it O.K. to write about your heartbreak? [...]

  • http://www.redroom.com/blog/mbread Kyla

    This article inspired me to write about something I’d been planning on talking about in my blog for a while. Check it out:

    http://www.redroom.com/blog/mbread/death-a-heartbreak-fiction

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