CANNIBALIZING YOUR LIFE

27acf-headshot-web

Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

CANNIBALIZING YOUR LIFE

One of my favorite quotes, attributed variously to writers Philip Roth and W. Somerset Maugham, is this: “Nothing bad can ever happen to a writer. It’s all material.”

I take comfort in that reminder when bad things happen in my life; at least I might someday squeeze a story out of the experience. I might think, “So this is what it’s like to be stuck in a hospital ER.” Or “So this is what it feels like to watch someone you love get sick and die.”

Do you ever find yourself taking notes, mental or otherwise, during some traumatic event?

Not to be morbid, but those moments of sheer pain or grief or terror, if captured when they’re fresh, can add depth and authenticity to your writing.

Many years ago, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. Inoperable. She was in her 70’s and knew she didn’t want chemotherapy, so she entered a hospice program. As I watched her fade away, sometimes in terrible pain, sometimes in a morphine fog, I didn’t jot notes in my journal as I sat by her bed. But when the dreadful process was over and she’d been laid to rest, I did journal the experience. The entries weren’t poetic or well thought out, but my raw emotions seeped onto the page so that years later I could pull out my journal and refresh my memory—from a safer distance.

I fictionalized my mother’s dying in my novel Mending Dreams—not to capitalize on her suffering but to try and redeem it, to acknowledge her courage. Many people who read the book have told me, “I could tell you’d been there. I have, too.” I like to think they derived some comfort from knowing they weren’t alone, from understanding “It’s not just me. Other people have felt this, too.”

Writing about life’s darkest moments gives me a slight sense of control and helps me get a handle on my pain or grief or anger or fear. And using personal experience, even if I disguise it, adds a layer of credibility to my writing.

Knowing I might eventually write about a painful incident, I try to be more observant. If I’m going to go through this experience, at least I can record it, do it justice, and convert it to something useful after my emotions have cooled.

I’m not the only writer to do this. Here’s another quote, from the late Nora Ephron, a writer I truly admire: “Everything is copy.”

She should know—she turned the failure of her marriage to Carl Bernstein into a very witty memoir, Heartburn, which went on to become a hit movie. And she was able to give her ex a little payback for the infidelity that wrecked their marriage.

So what about the flip side? Does this mean that nothing truly good can happen to a writer? I don’t think so. I journal many peak experiences too, and try to capture the good feelings before they dissipate. Those entries come a little easier.

Heck, you know life’s going to throw us some curves. We might as well use them to make ourselves stronger writers.

 

 

 

10 thoughts on “CANNIBALIZING YOUR LIFE”

  1. So true, Bonnie. By accessing the dark moments we all go through, we can channel it into something more positive for us as well as the reader. We enjoy our happy moments but they don’t penetrate or leave scars like sadness can. And while I find that odd experiences may be the most memorable, tragic ones are more meaningful. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Why not write about it? There isn’t a book that I have written that doesn’t contain something that I did, at least a part of it. I do have a vivid imagination, so there is a lot that is strictly fiction, but those little bits, those jewels or shattered pieces, do find their way into my prose as well. Why waste it?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Everything you write is a reflection, a compilation, of your experiences and your reactions to them. The horror and the joy have the writer as a nexus, a common denominator of the human condition as experienced by an articulate individual. It is part of what makes the words of others so interesting that we stay up nights reading, or sit in the driveway listening to them. Great post, Bonnie – an excellent reminder of why pain can be useful and why joy shared is joy multiplied.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I too have journaled through tough times and written out learned experiences and lessons. They do come in handy when you need to express your emotions and you feel a bit dry at the moment. I took a class on writing poetry (not something I would normally do) and whoa, did those written experiences and emotions come out then! A few posts on my other blogs have also reflected journal entries. Thanks for the reminder to dig them out and peruse the pages – talk about writing prompts!!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yep, Jackie, those recorded feelings can REALLY come out in poetry too!

      PS Thanks for the very humorous FB mention.

      Like

  5. Bonnie, what an excellent post. Excellent because everything you shared is so true and important. Understanding, feeling, and then expressing life events–good, bad, ugly, painful–in a way readers can share, I think is essential to writing that has meaning and touches us. Thank you for such a thoughtful and on the mark post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mad. From the responses I’ve gotten, I can tell this really touched a nerve with all of us. Guess that’s part of being human, huh?

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s