Not Such A Big Mystery, This Writing Thing of Mine

You seem like such a happy, giggly person, why are there sad undertones in your writing? That question came to me in an email earlier this week. I was impressed that this person did see the “sad undertones” in my writing, and thought it was a good question.

There is no real mystery surrounding any of this, no hidden secret I’m keeping from the rest of the world. I am a happy person. I can state that with all honesty, knowing that happiness isn’t something that comes to us from the outside. It comes from a choice we make on the inside.  This doesn’t mean I don’t know what sadness is or even understand it for that matter. I’ve lost people I’m close to, I’ve known disappointment. People have not lived up to my expectations. I don’t always get what I’d like. But I’m happy. Being happy doesn’t mean I don’t have crappy days (or weeks) or have tough, heart-wrenching decisions to make. The thing is, when I do, others rarely see it so they mistakenly believe it doesn’t exist for me, that I’m somehow immune.

None of us are immune.

No one leads a “perfect” life, even those people whose lives look perfect from the outside. If we all had perfect lives we wouldn’t be here, to learn, and share, accept, create, love.

So why does my writing have “sad undertones?”

A writer sees the world through a writer’s eye. And each writer has a different view of the world. I connect to my writing on an emotional level. It’s always been something I’ve understood very easily. It’s not difficult for me to put myself in someone else’s shoes. When I write a book, I understand the emotions my characters feel. A writer has to, even when we might not agree with their actions. A writer needs eyes in the back of their heads. We need to be observant of the world around us. We need to leave our judgments behind and let our characters be who they are, flaws and all. Because we are all flawed in our own way, whether we choose to believe it or not.

After reading an excerpt at the book launch, a friend came up to me and said, “I hate Aunt Millie already.” I agreed with her that Aunt Millie is a hard nut. But I like the character of Aunt Millie. I don’t hate her at all. She’s outspoken, and harsh, colourful in a way that makes her interesting to me. And she cares about Cammie in a way only Aunt Millie can. I promise you. Then again, I’m also privy to information about her that others aren’t. Because no matter what we see on the exterior of the people, characters in our lives, there is so much more to them than what they show the rest of the world. This is the case with Aunt Millie. She has her soft spot, but no one sees it. She can’t let that vulnerability show. She’s a bootlegger for goodness sake. She needs the world to see her as tough.

It helps to see both sides of the coin. One thing that sticks out in my childhood is something my father often said, “There are two sides to every story.” Some people argue that there are three, “your side,” “my side” and the “right side.” But life isn’t all that cut and dry. “Your side” and “my side” can both be right— right for us, that is. There really  is no third side. We all interpret life in our own way. We all see things through a different lens. We all react with different emotions. There’s a tendency in life to label things as right or wrong. But there isn’t always a right and wrong to life. Sometimes it just is, simple as that. A writer accepts their characters for who they are even when their actions aren’t the ones we might personally choose, yet we need to give them space to be who they are. Kind of like raising kids some might say.

Why are there sad undertones in my writing when the outside world sees a “happy giggly” person? The answer is quite simple. Life is sometimes sad, but rather than express that sadness to the world, I express it through the page. Writers don’t produce stories because we want to, but because we need to. We need to put the sadness and horror of this world in their rightful place to have them make sense when we all know that life doesn’t always make sense. It just is. But we all express our emotions in different ways; a writer does it with pen and paper. There’s no deep mystery, no big secret.

It just is.

We are all here to create and express life in our own unique way. We can thank God for that. Writing just happens to be mine. While it might sometimes reflect the happy side of life, it won’t always.

If you’re a writer what are your thoughts on this? Do you believe a writer brings their emotions to the page? If you’re not a writer, what form of art do you use to express yourself?

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10 Comments

  1. I do believe a writer brings their own emotions to the page. As I’m reading “Flying with a Broken Wing” I’m thinking “Millie could be nicer. Why is she so mean?” and then I’m getting into her shoes, waiting to see what it’s like, understanding that there’s usually a driving force behind all actions–good and bad–that we don’t often get to see it. Is Millie mean for the sake of being mean? I don’t think so. I believe her life has dealt her this hand, and she is dealing with it the best she can.

    Exploring other emotions–sadness, anger, drunken-stupors–gives writers an outlet for the emotions everyone feels. I sometimes write of violent things; it doesn’t mean I’m violent (although I did take my anger and disgust out on a wheelbarrow once that kept breaking on me), but it gives me an opportunity to explore that emotion in a safe environment.

    We all feel sadness; it is what lets us appreciate the happiness in our lives more. It is like what I say to the kids: “You must feel the hunger to really taste the food; you must feel the cold and wet before you really appreciate the warm and dry.”

    Reply
    • While Millie isn’t a very likable character, I still enjoyed writing her. I’m often left wondering if people who appear to be mean actually see themselves that way. I don’t think so. It makes me curious to wonder what has happened in the past to draw that meanness from someone on a daily basis.. Whether we like it or not there are mean people out there, and they are written about because sometimes we need to give them a voice.

      We never know who or what we’ll write about or what possesses us to explore certain story lines. I’m sure there are some who read your work and wonder why you sometimes write about violence, just as there are those who wonder why I sometimes write about sad situations. It’s difficult for a non-writer to understand. To writers it makes perfect sense. Thanks for commenting, Diane.

      Reply
  2. Judi

     /  October 8, 2013

    Miss Laura, Miss Laura, you can ask the craft gals especially Bonnie, what I have been telling them for awhile now. Your writing has a dark side to it. I remember one writing in particular it was called the name of a flower and I can’t think of it right now. But I told them when I read it, I couldn’t believe that you could write something like that. I’m going to have to look that up and give it to them to read. I know you are a happy, granny, little girl with a whole lot more writing in there just waiting for you to put pen to paper or fingers to key board.
    Love you, girl

    Reply
    • Yes, the Red Geranium.! It’s one of my favourite short stories. I’m not sure I like the label “dark side” but I understand what you mean. It is difficult by times for a writer to understand where a particular story comes from. And we mustn’t try analyzing me, Judi! Now THAT would be scary business. Thanks so much for being my friend. :)

      Reply
  3. as I see it, writers does put themselves in their writing but not neccessary a real part of them but maybe a part of them that feels that way. is it not human nature to be both happy and sad?

    hope you have a sweet day.

    Reply
    • Absolutely, Lissa. We need to know sadness in order to understand and know happiness. Without one the other wouldn’t exist.

      Reply
  4. Great post, Laura. My first novel (the first one I’d ever show the world, that is) features a rape. Because of this, several concerned friends and acquaintances asked if I’d been raped. But then again, a friend also asked how I knew what it felt like to be a man going through divorce. It’s just what we do. We don’t have to experience everything in our books or feel the same way as our characters to be able to write well. A high degree of empathy helps.

    I think writers are rarely like their subject matter. My writing is very dark, but I’m also usually a pretty happy person. I just like to write about dark subjects–that’s how I make sense of them, as you said. I also love it when a book or movie can scare me, so if I can make someone else feel that way, that’s pretty cool, too. :) I hope people hate my characters! That tells me your writing is making an impact.

    Reply
    • Thank goodness we don’t have to experience everything we write about! It’s sometimes difficult when people don’t understand that, but there’s really nothing we can do about that. We are the creators of characters, of worlds. That’s our job. Evoking emotions in our readers means we did our job well. You’re right, Holli, that’s a good sign!

      Reply
  5. Laura, I’m still behind in reading your posts, so here is my late comment on this one.
    During NaNoWriMo – and, so far, only during its month (November) – I have been writing a YA novel. I understand what you mean about understanding the emotions of your characters. I think it makes the characters come alive more than just writing about them or making up situations for the sake of having something to write. The story tells itself and the characters lead the writer along sort of from the inside of it all.

    The book I’m reading now is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. When you said you wonder if mean people see themselves that way it reminded me of Jane’s aunt who was cruel to her, but she expressed grief later to be thought of that way when ten-year-old Jane accused her of it as she was being sent away. Surprisingly, the aunt didn’t think she was cruel or mean at all! She thought she was such a good person and treated Jane well.

    I think it is hard to see ourselves the way others see us, and perhaps that is something the characters we create get a chance to demonstrate. Also, I really want to feel happier and I’m thinking you’ve hit on something. Perhaps the sadness and discouragement in my own life should come out in my writing more than in myself. It could lighten some days. :)
    Thanks, Laura.

    Reply
    • Congrats on writing a YA novel, Lynn. As for sadness and discouragement, Lynn, writing is a great release for that. Discouragement can come at any time, even when things are going along quite well. We all see things differently though, and we can never truly know what someone else is going through. I hope you’re able to lighten your days, Lynn. You’ve got a lot on your plate.

      Reply

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