During all those months of a shameful political campaign, I avoided writing about the election. Now I find it inescapable, for the aftermath is all around – and within – us.
Facing my writing students two days afterward, I saw how shocked they were. I had to make an immediate choice: should they – and I – try to fence off our feelings or incorporate them into our writing? I tore up my lecture plan and, instead, told them that the assignment for the day’s ’“prompt” (impromptu unedited writing) was to write what they were feeling. When they read these to the class afterward, I heard grieving frightened angry words. One man called the election an “apocalypse.” There was a general feeling of helplessness and concern about the effect the election had on their grandchildren. “We’ve failed them, ” a woman wrote.
The most general complaint from them and from all my friends is: “I can’t even write.” It’s as if, for so many of of us, the election was a tsunami that tore away anything creative.
Writing about the election that morning, my students said, helped them cope with it. But there are many other events in our lives – personal as well as political – that threaten to take over our minds, driving away that story or article or poem we were trying to create. We have to find ways to write our way through.
This doesn’t mean trying to ignore what we’re feeling.The interesting thing I’ve discovered is that including – rather than excluding – our feelings in our work can actually add to what we’re writing. Revising my novel this week, I found myself adding potent amounts of my current rage and cynicism to passages that now felt too sentimental.
Angry about events? Despairing? Use these feelings. You may find, as I have, this can bring your story to a deeper level. It may also help you feel you’re still in charge of your life.