The Writer’s Dilemma

As a writer, I think that I have some lofty expectations for myself that reach far beyond the confines of my novels. I have been really feeling myself fall short in these last couple of weeks, though. Being November, during NaNoWriMo, I think it’s alright for me to touch on something that I’m sure a lot of writers struggle with on a daily basis.

“The worst (best?) thing about writing is that you aren’t just a writer. You have to be a thousand things; a poet, a flirt, a weapons expert, a bleeding heart, a scholar, a legendary cook, a theorist, an engineer, a reckless teenage girl, a dying god, a robot, a murderer. You have to be able to write monologues and speeches and heartfelt confessions, and you have to make them believable. Writing is putting yourself into someone else’s shoes and hoping to God you do them an ounce of justice. Writing breeds empathy out of necessity and that is why so many writers go mad.”

That was a thought that I had a month or more ago, and shared through Facebook and tumblr. It’s what I’m talking about here: Empathy. The over abundance of it when it isn’t wanted, and the lack of it when it’s desperately needed.

Recently, a childhood friend of mine suffered the unimaginable loss of her boyfriend passing away. For what seemed like a really (unacceptably) long time, I avoided messaging her about it. It wasn’t that I didn’t care, because I truly was overwhelmed with my sorrow for her, but that I couldn’t find the words. What do you say to someone who has to face such a tragedy? And I know that the obvious answer is that there are no words for the situation; words can’t bring him back or erase her suffering. That isn’t good enough for me, though.

I’m a writer. My whole life revolves around the notion that words are magic, when strategically crafted and woven into just the right phrases. How is it that my magic can’t heal a broken heart? How is it magic if it can’t work when it is most needed? And worse, how can I write believable characters in my novels if, when it comes to interacting with real characters in life, I find myself to be such an inadequate wordsmith?

You read books and watch films with dialogue that moves you; people indulge in these escapes because they enjoy having their emotions manipulated in a way that they can walk away from, unscathed. How many scenes have you read or watched where someone had lost a loved one and their friend, a stranger, a family member spoke words that proved to be pivotal in their recovery from that despair? Why, then, can I not find the words to help the people that I truly care about in my real life?

To quote a terribly cheesy but incredibly great to watch Hilary Duff film: “Well, you’re an artist and artists feel things differently than regular people.” Writers are definitely artists, and I do believe that we feel things more deeply than those fortunate enough to be only consumers of art, rather than creators of art. We see the world in a way that can almost be crippling at times, because we can’t so easily brush off someone else’s pain or see a situation from the angle that a friend might want us to see. We empathize with the underdog, the villain, the victim–because we write them. We empathize with every side, and it creates a conflict within us of confusion. I say ‘we’ and ‘us’, but truthfully I can only speak for myself. If you’re a writer and this isn’t your personal affliction, don’t take offense.

In writing my novel this month, I have felt an immeasurable lack of ability to capture the fullness of the characters on the page. I am writing in a place thick with smog, and have found that my brain is mirroring that effect, clouding out the details of the persons who I ache to bring into clear definition for my readers. This is so frustrating to me. I know that December will be a hard month, full of absolutely shredding my work to bits and pieces until I want to toss myself off of a building. But I find that’s preferable to feeling this inadequacy creep into my real life, as regards things that are too important to be brushed aside as an ‘I’ll edit that later’.

Writers, do you commiserate with me? Do you find yourself struggling to do your characters justice on the page? Do you grow frustrated when you aren’t able to find the right words to give your friend when they’re facing an insurmountable tragedy? Is this truly a writer’s dilemma, or is this just my own personal struggle? And, I guess this is most important: How do you cope? What do you do to better serve your characters and the people in your lives, as a wordsmith? Please answer; there are so many writers struggling to pound out 50,000 words this month who I am sure could use any advice you might have.

And me? Well, I’ll have to live with the fact that I can’t use my words to fix a broken heart. Real life isn’t like your novel, where you can tidily tie up all the loose ends and be the master of every twist and turn. We aren’t God, we aren’t any all-powerful and all-knowing deities. We aren’t the authors of everyone’s lives, and we can’t always write a happy ending for the people we care about. That’s a hard realization to come to, but there it is.

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One Comment

  1. Hi. I got here via Tumblr. I can really relate to this, because I often am at a loss for words in certain real-life situations. I feel I should say something inspirational, but can’t think of how to phrase it. So, I usually end up saying something simple and telling the person I am there for them, which sounds rather plain.

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