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Writing With “Personally Hot” Topics

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.

Print Edition of Hinterlands Available for Pre-Order

Hello all of our wonderful borrowed solace friends! I have some exciting news–the print edition of borrowed solace 1.1, Hinterlands, is now available for pre-order in the store!

It’s a dream that has been a long time coming–publishing in print–and we are so excited to present you with the print edition of the journal that started it all, our very first publication–Hinterlands!

If you are interested in pre-ordering, please click on the image above to visit the store. As a thank you from us, you’ll also receive a sticker and an exclusive submissions tracker worksheet.

Thanks for all your support–we wouldn’t have reached this milestone without you!

Thunder

It is Thunder’s Birthday! He is two and for a fun blog, I wrote a poem about him when he was a puppy, enjoy then and enjoy the photo of him now! Have a happy Friday!

Thunder

this beautiful nightmare

came covered in all black,

his tawny colored eyes with

a storm of understanding

in world i hadn’t known yet

but he is more patient than i

to teach my nerves

tightly wound in my body

to stay steady in front of the herd

to overcome the obstacle

of oneself in life

not too fast

not too slow

be formidable while awake

the shadow of an avalanche

facing a daunting challenge

set by his steady gaze

his steady heart

his never-ending loyalty to waiver

telling me when i sleep

don’t’ be discouraged by my

lack of forgiveness

one day soon

one step near

one breath closer

i will become the best friend

you need me to be

Amber’s Top Ten List of Authors, Books, and Quotes

1. Garth Nix, he is my favorite author because of world building. 

The Series he has written (other novels not included):

  • The Old Kingdom which includes five books. This series of his is my particular favorite.
  • The Seventh Tower which includes six books. 
  • The Keys to the Kingdom which includes seven books.
  • Very Clever Baby which includes four books.
  • Troubletwisters which also includes four books. 

There is a very big difference between writing for children and writing for young adults. The first thing I would say is that ‘Young Adult’ does not mean ‘Older Children’, it really does mean young but adult, and the category should be seen as a subset of adult literature, not of children’s books.

Garth Nix

2. H.G. Wells, he is a great author because of the variety, his world-building, adventures, character building, and structure of his books. 

Here are some books I recommend: 

  • The Time Machine 
  • The War of the Worlds 
  • The Island of Dr. Moreau 
  • The Food of the Gods 
  • The Country of the Blind 
  • The Complete Short Stories 
  • Tales of Space and Time 

Nothing leads so straight to futility as literary ambitions without systematic knowledge.

H.G. Wells

3. J.K. Rowling, her character relationships are something to pay attention to, how she carefully and deblierately weaves every character together is astounding. 

Here are some books I recommend: 

  • The Harry Potter series which has seven books 
  • The Pottermore Series which has three books
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay

The thing about fantasy – there are certain things you just don’t do in fantasy.

  J. K. Rowling

4. Stephen King, his suspense is thrilling, King does amazing and unexpected things to keep a reader glued to the story.

Here are some books I recommend: 

  • 11/22/63
  • The Dark Tower Series 
  • Bag of Bones
  • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
  • The Shining Series

If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.

Stephen King

5. Dean Koontz, he also really good at creating suspense. 

Here are some books I recommend: 

  • Moonlight Bay Series
  • Odd Thomas Series
  • Watchers
  • Intentisty 
  • From the corner of his eye
  • Lightening 

Readers will stay with an author, no matter what the variations in style and genre, as long as they get that sense of story, of character, of empathetic involvement.

Dean Koontz

6. J. R. R. Tolkien, in his writing craft is the craft to write journeys, how to quest your characters into heroes, how to structure your enemies and foes.

Here are some books I recommend: 

  • The Lord of Rings Trilogy 
  • The Hobbit
  • The Fall of Arthur
  • The History of the Middle Earth series 

Fantasy has had some problems with being too repetitive, in my opinion. I try to read what other people are doing – and say, ‘How can I add to this rather than just recycle it? How can I stand on Tolkien’s shoulders rather than stand tied to his kneecaps?

Brandon Sanderson 

7. Anne Rice, has unique characters, pay attention to her character creation. 

Here are some books I recommend:

  • The Vampire Chronicles, 11 books
  • The Mayfair Witches Series, 3 books
  • Black Farm
  • Servant of the Bones

When I write something, every word of it is meant. I can’t say it enough.

Anne Rice

8. Daniel Handler, he sets a great tone and voice of his characters, and even the story. 

Here are some books I recommend:

  • Lemony Snicket
  • Why We Broke Up 
  • The Basic Eight 
  • Adverbs 
  • We Are Pirates

My first novel took almost six years to sell and was rejected 37 times in the interim, and then finally sold for the smallest amount of money my literary agent had ever negotiated for a work of fiction.

Daniel Handler

9. Bram Stoker, how not to do syntax. 

Here some books I recommend:

  • Dracula 
  • Dracula’s Guest, and Other Weird Stories 
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula: The Graphic Novel 
  • Dracula 2 

There are mysteries which men can only guess at, which age by age they may solve only in part.

Bram Stoker

10. Jane Austen, formal writing, her style and form of fitting a story together is something to pay attention to.  

Here are some books I recommend:

  • Pride and Prejudice 
  • Sense and Sensibility 
  • Emma 
  • Mansfield Park

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.

Jane Austen

S3 Episode 9: Resources

In season three, episode nine of the podcast, Amber and Nicole took over to talk about video games (this is a part two episode, so be sure to check out episode eight before listening to this episode!)

What do you think about this episode? Imagine we are chatting about what video games have inspired your writing while walking in a spring shower (don’t worry–we’ve got umbrellas!) How have video games inspired your writing?

S3 Episode 9: Video Games & Writing (part II)

This episode, Amber and Nicole are taking over again to talk all about video games and writing. They had so much to say about the topic that we divided the episode into two parts, so go back to episode eight to catch part one!

How Do We Find Inspiration?

As writers, that is a really broad and terribly needed topic. I can only tell you how I find inspiration and where you might want to look. I don’t garden, terribly allergic to flowers, but somehow, I have a thing for weeds. Words like “thistle” or “thicket” or “dandelion” or “lichen” come up over and over. These are things that usually are meant to be “tamed” or killed. They are “bad” in comparison to the petunia and the daisy. So, then I find inspiration in what people don’t think of and good or beautiful—perfect. That’s where poetry starts!

Exercise:

Think about five things that you like or (don’t) that people think of as good or bad, ugly or beautiful. For example, my father LOVES his flowers, knows every type of flower, loves a very green lawn. I, however, pray for mushrooms. I love mushroom circles and every time one shows up, his grass loses its pristine and I find true love and magic. So, my word would be mushroom, or maybe a specific mushroom.

Where else to find inspiration? We always say to write the unexpected…nice. How do we find the inspiration for that? Well, today in my class, I wrote about my fast-food restaurant not serving the correct brand of ketchup. How unexpected is that? Going small, molecular, digging in with scientific words, or going to ordinary tasks and putting your turn on it. You have a unique perspective. That means that even if we both write about ketchup, you might have an ode to the organic, or to Hunts, while I try to sway you with my love of Heinz. What about writing about cat litter or how your dog tugs you to the scent of skunk or porridge? Is there something you do that’s weird? Write about it. Do you know someone weird? Change their name, features, (and don’t tell them I told you to do this) write about them. 

Exercise:

Write down three things that are “unexpected.” So, remember it can be about you, the road, your pets, it’s all on the table. Then write a line or sentence and play around and see if you feel it becomes “unexpected.” Example: Kim’s List… 1. has two cats that hate her because she gives them medication. 2. Eats mostly tofu and French fries 3. Unlikely writer (she was told she would never be a writer)

Kim’s line: my tofu cries when I chase down my cats, terrified, I will ink them into paper.

“Big” events tend to bring out words for me. At first, I’m overwhelmed, published for the first time, general angst, someone dying, someone being born—these are all big topics. I also call them “hot”—they are emotionally charged. Sometimes in the beginning these thoughts and inspirations just boil over. Usually, that’s good to create the backbones of poems or prose, but when the topic has cooled—that’s when the inspiration gets juicy. When my grandmother died, I had a hard time writing about what I was feeling. It was abstract—what does morose really mean? It means watching the tv show Scorpion and writing in my journal. Which description shows grief better? Morose or binge watching? 

Exercise:

Find a “hot” topic that has cooled. Can you reflect on it and use it either as ammunition or inspiration? 

Example: Kim bought her grandmother miniature roses and kept them in the nursing home until they needed planted. She did this. And after her grandmother died, she tended these roses, loved these roses, and her father, wanting to tame the garden (he didn’t remember) weed wacked and Kim only had memories left.

What About the Theme?

If you’ve been following along with borrowed solace for a while, you know that we release two journals every year–the unthemed spring journal, and the themed fall journal.

We love our fall journals because they give us as editors, and you, as writers, something different to take into consideration as we put the journal together.

The theme for the fall 2021 journal is “tamed,” but what does that mean?

While I always think our themes are best left open to interpretation, that doesn’t mean you can submit a piece for the fall journal that doesn’t relate to the theme at all. What it does mean, though, is that you can be creative. Write about the opposite of the word, or juxtapose a tame character with a feral one. Think about the negatives and positives of being wild verus tamed, and write about how the two also can intertwine.

Think about the things we humans do to tame the wildness out of the world, and out of ourselves. Explore what it means to be untamable–at what point is breaking a wild horse a fruitless cause, and should it ever have been a cause worth putting time and effort towards in the first place? Explain the wildest place you’ve ever stepped foot into and how it made you long for your tamed suburban existence. Explain the opposite–how your humdrum and tamed life inspired you to take a few steps back and re-evaluate.

The possibilities when it comes to our fall 2021 theme, “tamed,” are endless… So get to writing!