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The Impact on Writing (1 Viewer)

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
We have had discussions before on whether the ability to write (as a "writer") comes naturally, can it be taught, or does success lie somewhere in between.

We have just squeaked out of a horrendous year, where personal pain was at the forefront. We have all been affected on some level by the events that have happened, just in 2020. So here's my question.

How much, if at all, do you think the difficult moments in life impact your ABILITY to be able to write effectively? Do you think trauma, pain, loss and other 'life lessons' play a role in improving our skill at communication? I'm not talking about being able to write about those personal experiences. I just wonder how those experiences might have enhanced your knowledge or awareness of life in general, enough so that you might not be the writer you are, without having lived through them.

Give examples if you are comfortable.

Sue :)
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
How much, if at all, do you think the difficult moments in life impact your ABILITY to be able to write effectively? Do you think trauma, pain, loss and other 'life lessons' play a role in improving our skill at communication? I'm not talking about being able to write about those personal experiences. I just wonder how those experiences might have enhanced your knowledge or awareness of life in general, enough so that you might not be the writer you are, without having lived through them.

Give examples if you are comfortable.

Sue :)

Ouf. Hmm. I think my ability to write to whatever degree I can comes from calmness, not difficulty. I don't communicate particularly well when I'm stressed. But I suppose if I see a lot of suffering I might be moved to try and lessen it by reaching out to others. But if the stress happens to me, my tendency is to hide it, to keep it secret, can lead to a bit of hermitization and noncommunicativeness. That could translate into time and raw material to write with, though.
 

vranger

Staff member
Global Moderator
I don't believe that difficult times in my life have enhanced my writing in particular, but the totality of my experience has ... just because I have a far greater variety to pull from than when I was younger. I understand more about the behavior of more types of people, travelled more, interacted in business more, and experienced more entertainment media to spark my own creativity.

However, I've always attributed the quality of popular music which came from the 60s and 70s to angst over Vietnam. It had a depth of feeling I've rarely seen since. So Sue, I'm certain your postulate has merit, if not on an individual basis, certainly as drawn from society as a whole.
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
I don't believe that difficult times in my life have enhanced my writing in particular, but the totality of my experience has ... just because I have a far greater variety to pull from than when I was younger. I understand more about the behavior of more types of people, travelled more, interacted in business more, and experienced more entertainment media to spark my own creativity.

However, I've always attributed the quality of popular music which came from the 60s and 70s to angst over Vietnam. It had a depth of feeling I've rarely seen since. So Sue, I'm certain your postulate has merit, if not on an individual basis, certainly as drawn from society as a whole.

Oh, I think music had a HUGE impact on the '60's. But if you think about it, a lot of the music was the result of the "angst over Vietnam." Artists were being effected by the War, they took pen in hand and wrote songs like, "Go Ask Alice," which might have never been if it were not for Vietnam. So, does music effect your writing?
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
I don't know if going through a divorce made me a better writer, but I used the resulting experiences to improve my writing.


That's my experience as well. I think it made me better understand what that abandonment feels like, so when I write about it, it feels more genuine. If we hadn't had that divorce experience, how would we know how it really felt? Thanks!
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
I’ve thought about different aspects of this question through the years, especially looking at the sometimes intensified perspective of youth. I love these big fascinating questions.

When I was younger I could not write nearly the range that I can now and do it well. I was out on a limb, imagining things like people I love dying, the body getting aches and pains, etc. There are so many things young people don’t know that they have no clue that they don’t know, but when they do have an experience that really rocks them sometimes they can write about the issue with sharp clarity, if less tempered perspective.

I think there are also writers whose lens is so focused that they might not even bring their experiences into their writing— the telescope is so narrow on what they aspire to writing about something that is not even touched by their experience. I’ve heard some people say that “firsts” don’t really make much difference to them— this sounded like a foreign planet to me, just it is so different for me. Perhaps their focus cuts through experience... although I think on some level it really can’t subconsciously? But that’s because my experiences and “firsts” very much affect me.

I have a writing friend who is also fairly young who said that without suffering you cannot see beauty, and he meant he and I...that we’ve seen suffering and can recognize beauty. I was torn on this, agreeing and not agreeing because many people have suffered more than he and I in our respective lives and many people do not walk away from suffering able to better recognize and appreciate beauty. Some walk away with bitterness and rage. I think what you decide to learn is probably one of the most conscious choices humans can make to change ourselves.

I put my experiences into my writing. When I was younger, my imagination used to try to go where I hadn’t actually experienced and it likely wasn’t very good writing. Now that I’ve gotten more experiences I feel like my range is more “true”. Lawrence Olivier (I can’t find the interview right now but it was on YouTube) said something like this about playing MacBeth... that you had to really have lived a while and have experienced life to play him. Olivier also said that when you put yourself into Othello’s shoes you realize that he is one of the most evil men with the most violent tempers. I think I’m quoting this and finding it relevant because it is his experience of putting himself into someone else’s shoes AND his experience of knowing from his own life and seeing other people’s lives that gives him that knowledge that Othello was not justified at all. I think writing is kind of like acting in that way. We use our imaginations to understand a plot and a person but imo experience is better than imagination for true understanding. Not that we don’t use both. Not that we don’t choose the lessons we will take from it all either way.

I bet I will always be exploring this question.
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
Ouf. Hmm. I think my ability to write to whatever degree I can comes from calmness, not difficulty. I don't communicate particularly well when I'm stressed. But I suppose if I see a lot of suffering I might be moved to try and lessen it by reaching out to others. But if the stress happens to me, my tendency is to hide it, to keep it secret, can lead to a bit of hermitization and noncommunicativeness. That could translate into time and raw material to write with, though.


When I was a young girl, when I was stressed I wrote. I wrote about my stress until it made sense, until I could explain it in a way that it made me feel that it was not the end of the world after all. I think my brother still handles stress the way you do, BD, which of course brings up the idea that everyone experiences life as an individual.

Our childhood was painful - and my brother was always under the radar. His way of coping was to keep his head down and his mouth shut; mine was more overt. I wanted to be seen and heard; I wanted to believe my opinion counted, which it didn't. We were well into adulthood before we could call our relationship "close" and right now its very close.

Even your "hermitization" is the result of something, and because your stories are so, so creative and unique (I'm thinking of that one from last month with the footnotes) you might say that life has, indeed, impacted your writing abilities. I don't know - maybe?
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
When I was a young girl, when I was stressed I wrote. I wrote about my stress until it made sense, until I could explain it in a way that it made me feel that it was not the end of the world after all. I think my brother still handles stress the way you do, BD, which of course brings up the idea that everyone experiences life as an individual.

Our childhood was painful - and my brother was always under the radar. His way of coping was to keep his head down and his mouth shut; mine was more overt. I wanted to be seen and heard; I wanted to believe my opinion counted, which it didn't. We were well into adulthood before we could call our relationship "close" and right now its very close.

Even your "hermitization" is the result of something, and because your stories are so, so creative and unique (I'm thinking of that one from last month with the footnotes) you might say that life has, indeed, impacted your writing abilities. I don't know - maybe?

I think the desire to actually do it definitely comes from a desire to put something out there, to be heard and valued.
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
I have a writing friend who is also fairly young who said that without suffering you cannot see beauty, and he meant he and I...that we’ve seen suffering and can recognize beauty. I was torn on this, agreeing and not agreeing because many people have suffered more than he and I in our respective lives and many people do not walk away from suffering able to better recognize and appreciate beauty. Some walk away with bitterness and rage. I think what you decide to learn is probably one of the most conscious choices humans can make to change ourselves.

I bet I will always be exploring this question.


That is very insightful. I do believe that some people get "stuck." It's like - have you ever seen an older woman who wears the same hairdo that she wore in high school? You think to yourself, goodness - do something different! Not everyone is interested in "growth." Some people get very comfortable in their ideas and as time goes on, they simply refuse to accept anything different, or anything that might make them see things differently. For some people, who have lost a loved one for example, the grief is so compelling they can't move beyond it. And because they are stuck, they get bitter and angry, not really understanding why they never feel better or happy.

I really like your response - lot of thought and thank you.

Sue :)
 

vranger

Staff member
Global Moderator
Oh, I think music had a HUGE impact on the '60's. But if you think about it, a lot of the music was the result of the "angst over Vietnam." Artists were being effected by the War, they took pen in hand and wrote songs like, "Go Ask Alice," which might have never been if it were not for Vietnam. So, does music effect your writing?

Not my fiction, but I also write both naked lyrics and lyrics with the music. There, I might be inspired to do my own variation on a theme, but that is a tightrope. You don't want to simply write a variation of a previous song. Even if it's not plagiarism, it's trite. So I have to explore the theme (say loneliness or relationship trouble) from a different angle than I'm familiar with.

About four years ago, near Christmas, I was thinking that with all the Christmas songs that are mainstays, it must be hard to come up with a Christmas song with an original vibe to it. I took it as a challenge, over the course of about three weeks wrote seven songs I was happy that, if ever performed, would stand on their own. So it wasn't as hard as I thought. :)

Now we can go back to your original question. The last of those seven songs is somewhat biographical, and is a bittersweet recollection of childhood Christmas memories. One verse chokes me up every time I read it:

In old homemade movies my brother and me
Wore cowboy outfits, proud as could be.
Our sister and Barbie on our father’s knee,
She’s no longer with us, you see.
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
Not my fiction, but I also write both naked lyrics and lyrics with the music. There, I might be inspired to do my own variation on a theme, but that is a tightrope. You don't want to simply write a variation of a previous song. Even if it's not plagiarism, it's trite. So I have to explore the theme (say loneliness or relationship trouble) from a different angle than I'm familiar with.

About four years ago, near Christmas, I was thinking that with all the Christmas songs that are mainstays, it must be hard to come up with a Christmas song with an original vibe to it. I took it as a challenge, over the course of about three weeks wrote seven songs I was happy that, if ever performed, would stand on their own. So it wasn't as hard as I thought. :)

Now we can go back to your original question. The last of those seven songs is somewhat biographical, and is a bittersweet recollection of childhood Christmas memories. One verse chokes me up every time I read it:

In old homemade movies my brother and me
Wore cowboy outfits, proud as could be.
Our sister and Barbie on our father’s knee,
She’s no longer with us, you see.

Wow, Vranger! Really lovely. This is my own criteria - I always think if you write something, and you read it back and it makes you cry - it's gold! There are some things I have written that make me misty almost every time. But what you wrote is just as sweet as it is telling - just the way the phrasing goes, and right into your heart. I wish I could hear it sung. Beautiful and thank you for sharing that.

Sue :)
 

JBF

Senior Member
Oh, I think music had a HUGE impact on the '60's. But if you think about it, a lot of the music was the result of the "angst over Vietnam." Artists were being effected by the War, they took pen in hand and wrote songs like, "Go Ask Alice," which might have never been if it were not for Vietnam. So, does music effect your writing?

I don't think music shapes experience so much as experience allows the listener to understand music (or any kind of art for that matter). Without that it's just something of a shorthand for a place you've never been.

Sitting at your writing desk streaming a 2007 remaster of Buffalo Springfield, for instance, is a whole other animal than humming it to yourself as you pack into a Huey for the start of a two-week sweep in the central highlands of Viet Nam - or hearing it in scratchy AM from another room as you peek out the curtains at a nighttime sky cast in orange and pray the downtown riots don't come to your suburb.

Objectively good music paired with visceral firsthand experience results in great music. It's why even people who can appreciate new artists and styles into adulthood still tend to fall back on the soundtrack of their formative years for favorites; it's not just a catchy piece of sound, it's what was on the radio while you were driving to prom, or the last song you heard before you lost somebody, or what was blasting from the radio while you were earning that college money with the air force in Germany. Sure, later generations can dig it. They just appreciate it for its surface merits, whereas to you it's a shortcut to another place and time.

On top of that, there's a truth in good art that keeps it relevant. A gallery-goer looking at Picasso's Guernica may judge it on the merits of style and how it influenced the development of artistic expression in the 20th century. A first-responder who's been on the scene of a mass-casualty disaster can follow them, wholly ignorant of the artistic world, and recognize that the painter managed to capture on canvas the sheer chaotic scale of such an event.

I think you've gotta be around for a while to get a handle on the kind of truth that underpins good art.
 
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TheMightyAz

Senior Member
This is a difficult one. I couldn't put my wanting to write down to specific events but I've got a ballpark idea of where the germ came from:

When I was at school, I was bullied and ridiculed by the teachers. I regularly got the 'stick' (a cane across the hand) for getting my maths wrong. This was frustrating because I failed to understand how it would 'improve things'. The only lesson I ever got a 'star' for was English, even though, at that time, I wasn't what you would consider great. So, in that regard, this is likely the bedrock and the compass. Literally the 'stick and the carrot'.

Because I was being bullied and ridiculed by the teachers, my family thought me stupid. This left me isolated. In that isolation, I began self examination. The problem was, I did that with all the negativity around me, meaning I framed all my inner thoughts around 'why am I stupid?', 'what am I doing wrong?', 'what is it about me I need to improve?'. That last one became the most important over time, but first I had to clean the slate and reexamine everything about myself and others.

My first approach was to destroy myself. To be fully objective, I had to be honest with my self, pulling myself up on every single last thing I thought was 'wrong'. This is likely where my depression really took off. I hated myself, loathed myself, mentally castigated myself on a daily bases, leading to nightmares, sleep paralysis and night terrors. So my days over a good 5 year period where: Go to school, get bullied and ridiculed by the teachers, go home, get ignored and thought a fool by my family, go upstairs and beat myself up over it, nightmares at night ... and repeat.

I would sit on my bed with my hand out until I could steady it. From that, I began to become more philosophical. I realised if I could control the outer expressions of my inner self, by default I was also controlling my inner self. Stoicism was at least some recompense.

So ... peeling onions, observing people, becoming philosophical, asking myself the difficult questions (soul searching), stick for maths, stars for English, nightmares every night ... while at the same time, looking at events with a stoical eye, observing ...

I think it was only natural I was drawn to fantasy (escape) and horror (reflection).

I can't fully condemn any of the above though. Who would I have been given a different circumstance? I'm known for being extremely honest, to a fault. I'm known for giving good advise to friends about everyday problems. I'm known for my calm in the face of adversity. And because I became so meticulous about every aspect of me, it lead me to focus in hard on specific elements I need to improve and not get distracted from them. That's lead to me becoming half decent at everything I attempt. How can I knock that?
 

druid12000

Senior Member
My family moved from Nova Scotia to New Hampshire when I was thirteen. Terrible age to be uprooted. Being newly inducted into the wonderful world of hormones and all things teen angsty, I did what any angry and self loathing teen would do, I escaped. Music, books (mostly fantasy), drugs, alcohol. Anything so I didn't have to feel what I felt.

In eleventh grade English class, we had to write a 'theme'. Some of you may remember the bumper stickers that read 'I'd rather be *fill in blank*'. That was our theme, so I chose 'I'd rather be Vegging out'. I wrote it specifically about getting stoned, while stoned, and promptly forgot about it after turning it in. Two weeks later the teacher returned the graded papers. I wish I could have seen the look on my face. Dumbfounded, dazed and confused maybe. She gave me an 'A' and told me I should submit it to a literary magazine. I didn't even remember writing it.

I wrote poetry for a number of years, mainly as a release of the frustration I felt for life in general. I stopped doing that and life got a whole lot worse (that would be the moral of this story! Just keep writing! :) )
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
How much, if at all, do you think the difficult moments in life impact your ABILITY to be able to write effectively? Do you think trauma, pain, loss and other 'life lessons' play a role in improving our skill at communication? I'm not talking about being able to write about those personal experiences. I just wonder how those experiences might have enhanced your knowledge or awareness of life in general, enough so that you might not be the writer you are, without having lived through them.
What a great question, love it. Something that's been on my mind with life and characters both because I would say that without adversity and even suffering there is no story. It's a big reason why anyone connects to a story in the first place, they can identify with the struggle.

If life doesn't inform our art, what does? And the things we feel most keenly will make the deepest impression. The things that make the deepest impression, I think, we describe the most eloquently because we've experienced all the levels of sensation and emotion.

I've noticed that people tend to talk the most about the painful things in their lives, the things that anger them or give them a wound. There are a lot of words for that. I'd say that's a more intense communication at least.

Thankfully, it's not just suffering, any strong emotion can get a lot of words flowing and higher attempts to communicate it. At least until the experience becomes so intense that no words are adequate.
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
What a great question, love it. Something that's been on my mind with life and characters both because I would say that without adversity and even suffering there is no story. It's a big reason why anyone connects to a story in the first place, they can identify with the struggle.

If life doesn't inform our art, what does? And the things we feel most keenly will make the deepest impression. The things that make the deepest impression, I think, we describe the most eloquently because we've experienced all the levels of sensation and emotion.

I've noticed that people tend to talk the most about the painful things in their lives, the things that anger them or give them a wound. There are a lot of words for that. I'd say that's a more intense communication at least.

Thankfully, it's not just suffering, any strong emotion can get a lot of words flowing and higher attempts to communicate it. At least until the experience becomes so intense that no words are adequate.

I like this, Foxee. I guess what I was looking at was an awareness of how we grow as writers. Certainly, on the technical side of things, you can excel but I was curious as to what makes us better at 30, for example, than we were at 16? To me, it's living, experiencing all the things you mention, and how does that manifest itself in our skill? I think when we have first-hand knowledge of pain, we strive harder to bring that knowledge to others. And yes, I agree that "identifying with the struggle" is what makes readers read on! Thanks!
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
My family moved from Nova Scotia to New Hampshire when I was thirteen. Terrible age to be uprooted. Being newly inducted into the wonderful world of hormones and all things teen angsty, I did what any angry and self loathing teen would do, I escaped. Music, books (mostly fantasy), drugs, alcohol. Anything so I didn't have to feel what I felt.

In eleventh grade English class, we had to write a 'theme'. Some of you may remember the bumper stickers that read 'I'd rather be *fill in blank*'. That was our theme, so I chose 'I'd rather be Vegging out'. I wrote it specifically about getting stoned, while stoned, and promptly forgot about it after turning it in. Two weeks later the teacher returned the graded papers. I wish I could have seen the look on my face. Dumbfounded, dazed and confused maybe. She gave me an 'A' and told me I should submit it to a literary magazine. I didn't even remember writing it.

I wrote poetry for a number of years, mainly as a release of the frustration I felt for life in general. I stopped doing that and life got a whole lot worse (that would be the moral of this story! Just keep writing! :) )

What an awesome example! Thank you! :)
 

SueC

Staff member
Senior Mentor
This is a difficult one. I couldn't put my wanting to write down to specific events but I've got a ballpark idea of where the germ came from:

When I was at school, I was bullied and ridiculed by the teachers. I regularly got the 'stick' (a cane across the hand) for getting my maths wrong. This was frustrating because I failed to understand how it would 'improve things'. The only lesson I ever got a 'star' for was English, even though, at that time, I wasn't what you would consider great. So, in that regard, this is likely the bedrock and the compass. Literally the 'stick and the carrot'.

Because I was being bullied and ridiculed by the teachers, my family thought me stupid. This left me isolated. In that isolation, I began self examination. The problem was, I did that with all the negativity around me, meaning I framed all my inner thoughts around 'why am I stupid?', 'what am I doing wrong?', 'what is it about me I need to improve?'. That last one became the most important over time, but first I had to clean the slate and reexamine everything about myself and others.

My first approach was to destroy myself. To be fully objective, I had to be honest with my self, pulling myself up on every single last thing I thought was 'wrong'. This is likely where my depression really took off. I hated myself, loathed myself, mentally castigated myself on a daily bases, leading to nightmares, sleep paralysis and night terrors. So my days over a good 5 year period where: Go to school, get bullied and ridiculed by the teachers, go home, get ignored and thought a fool by my family, go upstairs and beat myself up over it, nightmares at night ... and repeat.

I would sit on my bed with my hand out until I could steady it. From that, I began to become more philosophical. I realised if I could control the outer expressions of my inner self, by default I was also controlling my inner self. Stoicism was at least some recompense.

So ... peeling onions, observing people, becoming philosophical, asking myself the difficult questions (soul searching), stick for maths, stars for English, nightmares every night ... while at the same time, looking at events with a stoical eye, observing ...

I think it was only natural I was drawn to fantasy (escape) and horror (reflection).

I can't fully condemn any of the above though. Who would I have been given a different circumstance? I'm known for being extremely honest, to a fault. I'm known for giving good advise to friends about everyday problems. I'm known for my calm in the face of adversity. And because I became so meticulous about every aspect of me, it lead me to focus in hard on specific elements I need to improve and not get distracted from them. That's lead to me becoming half decent at everything I attempt. How can I knock that?

AZ, what an awesome revelation! And that really gets at the crux of things, doesn't it? Who would you be without the things you have lived through? I did very poorly in high school because my home environment was pretty chaotic. I went to work after graduating and a friend I met there asked me to go to a couple of night school classes with her. I enrolled at Loyola University - downtown Chicago - in a Psych 101 and English Comp. class and got an "A" in both. I had never gotten an A in anything in my life and that opened the door for me to realize that I am a very smart person. The ultimate benefits were, like you said, an ability to look at everything differently and realize that the reality you think you see (the outer layer of the "onion") is only the beginning. Wonderful job, and thank you AZ!

Sue :)
 

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