Writing with “hot” topics, and those that I say are “personal” encompass everything from grief to extreme joy. When I say something is “personal,” I define it as something that resonates deeply within us. So deeply, that it is hard to talk about and certainly hard to write about—maybe even to think about!
For example, I have been writing about loss lately. Sometimes, this brings back unwanted memories, repressed memories, little details I did not know would stick with me. And I will give the opposite scenario, joy, I feel an overwhelming connection seeing old friends again—my heart feels near bursting, but my pen is not. And that is perfectly normal.
If you are struggling with a “hot” topic. If it makes you ill, hurts too much, brings back flashbacks, put it away. Now. Just file it away in a physical drawer or in a file in your memory. You can even promise to get back to it out loud if you need to. I am not saying forget about it. I am saying be good to yourself. You will know in your gut, in your heart, when you are ready to reveal your truth and your emotion. That is both a brave and scary thing to do.
If you are in the new stages of that hot, fierce, topic, you might want to journal. Catalogue your feeling and the events as you perceived them. What you remember, how you felt while holding the chipped cup while you got news of… But journal—do not craft. Ease your mind. The only way to write authentically and to be able to tell your story is to process it. That means talking to a therapist, a grief counselor, a friend, a favorite teddy bear. I am not poking fun—you have to do what you have to do stay whole. Writers in the past have failed to keep up with their mental and emotional health to disastrous results. We are not them. Process those emotions in a healthy manner. Breathe, yoga, journal, paint…do what you need to do. Then, you are ready for the next step.
The next step, after days, weeks, months, years, will be to un-file those emotions and situations and look at them fresh. If they overwhelm you. Chances are it is still too soon. Put them back in the drawer.
If you feel like, yes, they hurt, but I NEED to get this down on paper, be gentle. Do not pick a form or a length. This will be more than freewriting, but it will form itself as to how you can emotionally deal with the subject matter. That means YOU DO NOT JUDGE YOURSELF. That is the hardest part. All of the I should have told him/her/they that I loved them, or I shouldn’t have told him/her/they that I loved them… will bubble up. Ease through it. Do not have a rush of feelings that are uncontrollable. If you do, walk away. Come back in an hour or day. Drink your favorite beverage. This is brave, extremely difficult work.
So, we analyze the facts first, what happened, how do we feel, maybe look at the old journals, maybe not. Then, details, emotional truths, lessons, anything that sort drifts into your mind. This might be where form or genre starts occurring.
NOW—what if we can’t use “I”—what if that is too close? Then, you might not be creating nonfiction. There is no hate in that. Personas are brilliant tools. I have stand-in characters and narrators that are dealing with MY emotions and situations, but that are certainly not me. I have used Darth Vader and Flick the Fairy. Both sets have been published, so do not worry about the dirty publication fear right now.
What really resonates with readers, and what will resonate with you as you write and as you hear how you touch others, is authenticity and details. Share that image of the shabby, dirty periwinkle hospital gown—you just do not have to do it as yourself or with the names of others. Share your real, gritty and grimy, feeling. Be messy, that will touch your reader in immeasurable ways.
Always be gentle with yourself. While you are writing and while you are reading the piece after it has been published. Raw emotions will be there. I sometimes cry while I read published work about my losses. That too is normal and okay.
Always remember that your work is important and needed. Your words will help others in similar situations process their ‘hot’ material, their strong emotions that are overwhelming them. Most importantly, your words will give them my favorite word, “balm.” We are writers. Never forget that we change the world one word at a time and one person at a time. Remember, that person can also be you.