I have many demons that vie for attention when I sit down to write. I am never sure which one will yell the loudest and demand that I select them for my next topic. Often, when I try to ignore these demons they start showing up outside of my quiet writing room and into my chaotic life. They interfere with my day to day tasks – driving, reading, bill paying, motherhood, meditation and most pervasively in my dreams. What’s a writer to do? Select one, of course.
This is how I most often select what I am going to write about. It is the demon that causes the most harm to my psyche that wins. But selecting a current demon to entertain is not as easy as it might seem. Yes, they have plenty to say, but what they say is rarely of literary merit. They want to cry, bitch, and moan about the unfairness they have faced. They want to place blame elsewhere while I am trying to remain neutral. How does a writer win the fight between the emotional demon and the logical mind? How does a writer keep the anger, resentment, and vengefulness out of their writing?
I have read many essays where the author chose to let it all loose and it alienated me as a reader. Maybe it is because I am sensitive and can easily put myself in the place of others emotionally. This ability brings with it all the negative emotions that come with a piece which sets out to even a score. I don’t feel good after reading these kinds of essays. Instead I feel unsettled, like I’ve just overheard an endless rant while waiting in the line at the grocery store. It makes me uncomfortable, makes me want to rush through the line and distance myself as fast as I can. I am sure this is not how we want our readers to feel about what we have written. I want to clarify here that I am talking about writing for publication in literary journals and what I have experienced writing my own memoir pieces and reading others’ that we aspire one day to have published.
So, how does a writer express what they are feeling without the negativity coming across to the reader? I think it comes from writing about the facts objectively. If what has occurred has angered us, just sharing the facts without embellishments will surely connect with that same angry part of someone else. It is our need to appease the emotional demon that leads to a strong biased opinion coming through in our writing. We are essentially telling our readers that they cannot figure it out on their own so we must spell it out for them. We, too, can be fearful that we are alone in our anger and pain and must defend the way we feel before anyone has the chance to respond. It is difficult not to tell our side of things and trust our readers to come to their own conclusions. We are worried that our readers will misunderstand our intentions, or, even worse, disagree with the perspective we so strongly hold as truth.
Regardless of how we write, though, there will always be readers who misunderstand or disagree with what we are trying to say. But, we do not want to alienate them by shoving our opinions in front of them and expecting them to read without walking away before they’ve finished. Instead we should aspire to let our readers watch the events unfold just as they unfolded for us and allow them to feel what we felt before we could form an opinion. We want them to read to the end and form their own understandings and misunderstandings regardless of whether they agree with what we have written or not.
So, yes, my demons control what topics I will write about, but I maintain control of how I share their stories with the world. It is through the elimination of ranting and strong opinions in my essays that I have been given a fresh perspective on events from the past that have shadowed me relentlessly. As I rewrite, revise, and embrace critiques, I learn to work through my anger before it is released to the world and my writing is better for it. My writing now holds more meaning for my readers and allows them to connect more deeply with the often shameful secrets I am compelled to share with them.