#IWSG Sept 2018: Writing about major life events

Posted September 5, 2018 in Creative Writing / 8 Comments

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It’s time for another Insecure Writer’s Support Group post to boost my confidence and encourage myself to engage with the writing community. The IWSG post on the first Wednesday of every month.

This month’s co-hosts are:   Dolorah @ Book Lover,Christopher D. Votey, Tanya Miranda, and Chemist Ken!

This month I’ve been steadily working through the first draft of my WiP. It’s frustrating that I don’t have more time to work on it, but I know I’ll get their eventually so I’m trying to write little and often. The story is taking on a life of its own now and I’m excited to see how my characters develop. 

This month’s optional question:
How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something?

Content warning: This post contains a general discussion of bereavement.

This is a really interesting question. It really depends on the situation and type of event in my case. Some major life events give me inspiration for my writing and a deeper understanding of my characters. Since having my daughter, for example, I’m now more drawn to writing about mother and child relationships and I feel I can portray parents more realistically now I have first-hand experience of raising a child.

Unsettling changes like bereavement can go either way. Sometimes, I find myself completely blocked and unable to write for months. Other times, I find writing about my grief and pain cathartic, so I use it as a tool to express what I can’t articulate verbally. When I was suffering from depression, writing and blogging helped me to connect with my inner self again and were instrumental in my recovery. I firmly believe in the healing power of words.

I will never forget an experience I had during high school English class when I was about 15. We were asked to write a short story and mine was about a young girl who dreamed of following in her mother’s footsteps to become a champion high diver. Her mother had passed away several years ago in a diving accident and her overprotective father would not allow her to compete. The story was about him battling with his grief and eventually learning to give his daughter the freedom to pursue her dreams. 

When my teacher gave me back my story, (which I think achieved a C grade) I was shocked by her reaction. She very angrily told me: “You don’t write about that.” I didn’t understand what I had done wrong. She continued, “If you’d gone through it, you wouldn’t write about it.”  

The story was eventually remarked by a different teacher and given a much higher grade, but that wasn’t the point. I was really confused and upset by the message I was given. No, I hadn’t gone through the death of a parent, but I had experienced grief. I knew what it felt like to lose someone you love. I didn’t and still don’t agree that it is wrong to write about death. I completely understand that some people don’t want to write or read about it, but I know there are others that do. Death and bereavement are things we all have to go through at some point, but we all deal with it in different ways. For some of us, writing about difficult personal experiences is not only helpful but necessary.

I can only assume that my story had triggered unpleasant memories for my teacher, and for that I am truly sorry. I hadn’t considered that before I submitted it. I’m glad that we are now all more aware of the need for trigger warnings and I don’t understand why people object to them or mock those that ask for them. Certain subjects can be very distressing for some people to read about, so why wouldn’t we provide them with a heads-up and give them the choice whether to continue reading or not? With the benefit of hindsight, I would have warned my teacher about the nature of the story before I submitted it.

What are your thoughts?

How do major life events affect your writing? Do you think there are certain topics that we shouldn’t write about? If you’re a reader, do you appreciate trigger warnings?

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8 responses to “#IWSG Sept 2018: Writing about major life events

  1. Red

    I’ve never thought about “trigger warnings” but yours is the second one I’ve seen this week! I guess I should get in touch.

    I do not think any subject is taboo, if it is well-written. Also, certain subjects to need a warning. I don’t choose to read explicit sex scenes, so I like to know if something is erotica. I’m not a huge fan of horror, so I try to avoid that too, unless it is highly rated simply as well-written work.

    I moved this summer, and it did cut into my word-count for the week, and there were a couple days I skipped. Also, now I’m trying to figure out a new routine in a new place, so I haven’t been as consistent in my writing. So, yes! I’d say life events do cut into my writing!

    • Moving and other big life changes are bound to affect our writing. I hope things are more settled for you now and you are getting back into the swing of things. I agree about warnings for erotica and horror, I’m not a big fan of either of those either.

  2. Your teacher was definitely wrong to say what she did – and I feel pretty confident in that as I am quite literally a writing professor. As a teacher, she should have been prepared for her own triggers and dealt with them accordingly in order to develop and encourage her students. I am glad your experience with that teacher did not turn you off from writing.

  3. I hope doing little bits with time really helps with your WIP. I kind of agree about bereavement? For me it’s always one way – I don’t write for a bit, and then I pour out all my emotions in a poem or a short story, and it really helps me get through those emotions and understand where I am in my grieving process. It’s almost a relief actually, to write. In fact, the reason I started creative writing was that when I was 10 my grandfather passed away due to cancer. It had been anticipated but still hit my hopeful child-mind hard. I wrote a short story which was about a girl and her grandfather and death and collapsed into tears a few weeks later, but it helped me so much. I haven’t stopped writing since (although death and grief are not always the subject matters or themes.)

    • So sorry about your grandfather. Facing a bereavement as a child is really hard. I feel the same about writing when I’m grieving, I find it very cathartic. Sometimes I can’t talk about my feelings, but I can write them down. I’ve kept a diary for a long time and that really helps me.

  4. Woo! Good luck on the rest of the draft, and I’m glad everything is finally getting together and the story is going well.

    I completely believe in words having the power to heal – writing (well, journaling, but it IS writing) a commonplace book (we could do whatever we wanted in there so I used it as a journal; he wasn’t going to read it anyway) throughout my freshman year of college really helped me cope with what happened the last few months of senior year and the summer before college. I’m not sure I would have gotten through otherwise.

    That’s really bad for the teacher to have given you a low grade because you’ve gone through the emotions and decided to write about your experience? Trigger warnings back then would have been nice though, and I think that’s why they’re a bigger importance now because some people don’t want to come across content they’re not comfortable with or are not ready to deal with. I find those to be super helpful to have in the books that we read as it lets me avoid topics I’m not ready to deal with yet or are not comfortable with.

    • I’m glad that journaling helped you through a hard time. I find it really helpful to write my thoughts down too. Totally agree about trigger warnings, it is great to give people a choice.

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