Avoiding Writing the Uncomfortable

Isn’t it funny when we write fiction how even though we are the ones making up the story, it feels like we’re just copying it down instead?  There have been times where I’ve been shocked and appalled at something that has happened to one of my characters, as if it didn’t come from my own mind somehow.

I think that is why I struggle at times to write uncomfortable scenes.  It doesn’t occur to me to leave them out, because it is part of the character’s story.  I feel like I’d be lying, or at the very least not telling the story right if I left out something just because I don’t want to deal with the emotions that will come when I write it (I wonder if J.K. Rowling put off writing about Dumbledore’s death).

For example, my main character I’m writing about now was abused, physically and sexually, by her dad.  My dad didn’t do anything like that to me, but when I wrote about it, I felt like it had (I’m not suppressing anything, by the way.  My dad was not abusive.  I just have an amazing ability to empathize even when I haven’t experienced something.  I think most good writers have this ability.  It helps them write characters who aren’t just clones of themselves).

Now I have to write about the early marriage of this same character; because of what happened to her in her early life, things don’t go that smoothly now.  She has trust issues for one thing and a lot of what she goes through is very painful and confusing for her.  I realized this week that I’ve been flat-out avoiding writing about it, because parts of my marriage was very traumatic for me.  I won’t go into it, but the things that happened are bad enough that I am now single.

The things that happened to me are not the same things that happened to my character, but some of the things are close enough that I may have a strong emotional reaction or flashback of my own experiences, and I don’t really look forward to that.  The protector part of me has chastised the writer part of me: “Just write something else, Stupid!  It’s not worth getting in the way of your writing or getting yourself upset over!  And it’s your story.”

But, it doesn’t feel that way.  I’ve heard many writers who feel like writing a story, at least the main storyline, feels more like taking dictation than making it up.  For me, it often feels like I’m sitting just outside the characters’ view, watching the whole thing unfold.  I can feel that protective wall go up inside my head when something uncomfortable is about to happen.  It makes it hard to write.

The first ( clichéd) step to getting past this is admitting there is a problem!  I kept feeling overwhelmed by other things in my life, and for good reason, but the real reason I haven’t written the next part is because I was avoiding the feelings that will accompany it.

Now that I’m aware of it, I can approach this as I do other uncomfortable tasks:

-I can just write the main ideas quickly and get them out of the way- dealing with any details another time (breaking up the task but also pushing through).
-I can skip it and get back to it but at least move to the next part, so I’m not eternally stuck on this part.
-I can do my writing in a pleasant spot- out in the sun, at The Grind with an almond steamer to warm me- somewhere to take away the sting of the scene (although I’m not sure I want to cry at the local coffee shop; too many people recognize me there).
-I can reward myself for getting it done.  A promise of chocolate at the end is not a bad motivator.

Ignoring it, like ignoring bad things in “real” life, is not the most effective solution, though.  I typically just need to face it and get it written.  If I want to take it out of the story, I can of course, choose to do that.  But, it may require extensive rewriting of a character’s backstory to do so.  Sometimes it is okay to gloss over a character’s trauma, but doing so just to avoid writing it is probably not going to be the best choice.

The main thing is to deal with it consciously somehow.  I’ll be scheduling my uncomfortable scene writing as soon as this is published.  I’m really a push-through kind of person, once I’m aware there’s a problem.

4 thoughts on “Avoiding Writing the Uncomfortable

  1. I wrote a scene a few nights ago that had me in tears. I don't know if that will create the same experience in the reader, but it took a decent amount of emotional investment on my part to write it.

    And private space so people didn't watch me cry, because that's awkward.

    Good luck!


  2. Wait, Dumbledore dies??? 🙂

    I think you're absolutely right. Your story and your character will be strengthened by those tough scenes, and you will too. Good luck!


  3. Good points. I think we have to be able to invest emotionally in our stories to make them successful but I agree it can be draining and exhausting at times. I had to kill off a character in my last manuscript and I worried about it for ages even though I knew it was right for the story! Good luck, chin up you'll get though, and chocolate's always good remember 🙂


  4. LOL to Elaine's comment about Dumbledore. Seriously, my husband will NEVAH forgive me because he saw me in tears when I got to that part of the book. And when he asked me what was wrong, I cried out…


    I have had a few scenes that have evoked similar feelings. One of them is the one that I read at Take Back the Night this year. Getting it OUT in writing was very…what, cleansing, maybe? Perhaps finally getting those types of scenes down in writing were like purging my own demons, even if the scene itself didn't necessarily relate to my own demons. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Joy!


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