Stripping My Emotional Self in Writing

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on December 4, 2014 in Anecdote, WIP, Writing |

I’m the kind of person who holds her emotions really close to her chest. I hate crying in front of people, even the ones I’m closest to, and have always, as far back as I can remember, felt this way. I don’t like openly showing many strong emotions often feel embarrassed when I do, and sometimes even feel embarrassed for other people when they are showing strong emotions (though they themselves probably aren’t feeling that way…they are simply reveling in whatever they are feeling).

It’s not that I don’t have strong emotions. In fact, it’s just the opposite; I have strong emotions, it’s just hard for me to show them. When I’m upset about something or hurt, it most often comes across as anger…because for some reason my brain thinks it’s okay to show anger if I have to show something.

Psychoanalysis aside (not really interested in analyzing myself, especially not here on a public website…yikes!), being this kind of person makes it hard for me to open up my emotional self in my writing. One of my goals this year was to push my writing to show deeper levels of emotions, and that included all forms of my writing: blogging, the journals I keep for the boys, my novels, everything.

I really stripped down and got real here on the blog with my post “How Does a Mother’s Love Grow?” back in February. I was going through a really tough time as a mother and shared some real and not necessarily flattering feelings. Frankly, that was a terrifying moment when I hit Publish on that post. But it got a lot of hits and so many wonderful comments. Though when I think about people reading that post, it kind of makes me nauseated.

My WIP is a really gritty novel, a thriller about a girl with a dark past (much of which she can’t remember) and who isn’t sure if she deserves a chance to remake herself. She isn’t even sure if that’s possible and wonders if she’s just an evil person at the core. Not that her feelings are my own per se, but the idea is to push and explore those very deep emotions and draw them out. Whatever they may be.

So I think I’ve begun to chip away at that goal. And I think it’s bringing my writing to a whole new level. Because it’s those deep emotions that resonate with readers, it’s what they connect to and remember from a story. Ultimately that’s the kind of stuff I want to write, even if it kind of makes me cringe a little on the inside. It also makes me glow on the inside, too. One of the many dichotomies of my life!

I guess the next step in this process of mining my emotions would be to allow myself to express them to a fuller extent. Not only would that aid in my writing, but it would probably be healthy for me and my relationships (not that any of that is bad, but those could always be better, right?).

So where have you pushed yourself and your writing this year and where are you taking those things in the next year?

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  • This post definitely resonates with me. I also don’t like showing my emotions in public, but my body has other ideas about that. Like when I bawled watching Frozen on Ice (of all things!) Anyway, anger is also that first emotion that shows itself, usually directed at the kids for grinding pizza into the carpet or fighting with each other. Sigh. I’m also working on depth of feelings in my work. My first drafts are always bereft of emotions and feel shallow. With each draft, I put more and more in. It’s hard for me to feel the emotions and the story arc at the same time. This is why I write in layers.

    Hmmm, I think I should make a blog post about this! 🙂

    • Thanks for the very thoughtful comment, S.J. I find not defaulting to anger a challenge in my parenting as well. This is definitely good fodder for a blog post. I had a lot more I could have said, but I like to keep my posts somewhat brief. 🙂

      Oh, and wanted to make sure to mention that your work has certainly stirred my emotions while reading, so adding in those layers is working.

  • Wonderful post, Katie! I totally hear you about showing emotion in public–I wish I was able to keep a tighter rein on mine because I really hate getting weapy at times. Especially when I get angry, as that makes me cry. That just makes me angrier, too, lol! Anyhow, I think that’s an awesome goal for your writing, too, and definitely something that I’d like to be stronger at!

    • Thanks, Meradeth! I always wish I could express my emotions more, so people don’t think I’m some kind of emotionless robot 😉 …guess the grass is always greener, right?

      I’m starting to feel like there’s no end game to pushing the emotional limits in a story I’m writing. It’s probably something I’ll always be working on, and creating a balance between emotions is important too. It can’t be all one note because that gets tedious after awhile.

  • Vijaya says:

    It is hard, Katie! No wonder I am more comfortable with NF, with facts and numbers. But I hear you on how much more the writing resonates when you make yourself vulnerable. I think that’s the key. I am growing in this dept. too.

  • Jan Coates says:

    It’s seriously hard work digging to really get at the “guts” of your character, finding out what he/she’s like on the inside. And the worst of it is, it takes draft after draft …, and then some! The good thing is, as fiction writers, we can mine our characters’ emotional depths, rather than having to reveal our own (in print!)

    • Hi, Jan! So true about adding in those layers during subsequent drafts. I always find I have to be in touch with my own emotions in order to figure out my character’s. It’s hard to write an emotion into a character that I haven’t experienced and also acknowledged within myself.

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