The Dangers of Cathartic Writing

I was just about as pleased as they come when a friend of mine invited me to her blog group.  No ranting.  No trashing other people’s work or creative vision, in fact, quite the opposite.  Support.  Feedback.  Creative people on a creative journey sharing the experience.  A legitimate blog about real stuff void of internet bullies…ahh.  Where’s it been all my life?  And then it hit me…what in the world am I going to write about?  Not to say that I’m an internet bully who has nothing better to do with her life than trash what other people do with theirs.  Oh no, not by a long shot.  But I do tend to give in to the rant.  What can I say?  There’s a lot in my life about which to rant.  This turned itself into the subject of my first post.

I was once warned about the dangers of cathartic writing.  Not blog rants, but attempting to make a real writing project out of something that really bugged, or is still bugging me.  The warning here is that while “write it out” is great advice for a healthy outlet, it’s not necessarily conducive to creating a finished project because once whatever you had to write out is out, the draw to the project sort of sputters and dies.  And yes, I am guilty!  I have pages and pages of started stories because some significant event was the inspiration and then I just sort of got over it and as a result, the story suddenly didn’t mean as much.  To combat this, I decided to keep on working on these projects.  Surprise, surprise, the continued writing simply wasn’t good; or at least, not nearly as good as the really inspired stuff.  In the end, I’d give up the battle and scrap the project.

While that never really bothered me much, I was shocked to learn that it really bothered the people reviewing my work.  Apparently they actually cared about the characters and what was going to happen next.  They actually wanted to know more, which is only shocking to me because I’m incredibly hard on myself and never think anything is that good, but that’s a whole other post.  The point is that I got a whole lot of, “That’s not fair!  You get to know what happens because it’s in your head.  I don’t get to know a thing because you aren’t writing it.”  Wow.

Hence the beginning of written rants.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with ranting.  Find my facebook or myspace page and you’ll see blog rants for miles!  Open my journal (please don’t) and you’ll find pages of the same.  However, there’s a problem there too.  The problem is that it often leaves me a bit drained.  I’ve now written an emotional rant that has made me want to put the pen down, therefore making no progress on my projects.  Also not good; still have people angry at me for not getting to know what’s next yet.

But “chin up” to all of you who find yourselves in my situation.  I think I may have a solution…at least it’s working for me so far.  The solution for me has been exercises in character development.  As my characters are created in my image (yes, a bit of a god complex, I know), it’s not a far stretch to say that one of my characters may have a similar life experience, or be bothered by the same kinds of things.  What I do is assign the life experience to the character most likely to have it.  If I don’t have that character already, I create her (or him), and find that character a place within that world and let the interactions with existing characters happen.

Now I have pages and pages of “character development.”  How is that different from pages of rants or unfinished stories?  Well, for one, I get to learn a lot more about my characters and the world in which they live.  For two, these pages aren’t part of the core story so none of the people reviewing my work have a clue about these pieces.  All they know is that the core story (or to them, the story) is stronger.  These cathartic pieces become driving forces behind the core story rather than something that hinders it.  I suddenly know why two characters don’t really like each other, and the interactions between them in the core story now give clues as to why.  It’s not flat dislike for no apparent reason anymore.  And should I need to expand on the story or need an idea for another work within that same world, I can pull those pages and maybe make use of them.  It’s really just good time management.

*(Added after initial post) ALWAYS keep the writing, even if you’ve scrapped the project for the time…even if you don’t think you’ll come back to it.  You’ll want those pages eventually!  Thank you to “uninvoked” for pointing that out!

3 thoughts on “The Dangers of Cathartic Writing

  1. oh my gosh, KEEP those emotionally draining rants! Tuck them away in a folder marked “idea box” and just hold on to them. Maybe you can’t continue writing that particular characters story, but when you’re writing a novel and this issue comes up you’ll have that raw emotion sitting there like a jewel, waiting to be used.

    • Oh yes, I’ve kept them. It’s like a trash bin that’s never, ever emptied. I probably should have mentioned that. Good call. Thanks.

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