When I was eight I was raped. It feels strange to write that here. It’s not something I’m in the habit of sharing although it does come up now and then with the mums I’m close to because as mothers we discuss these issues in relation to our kids. I was lucky that my parents were very practical and straight forward about getting me help to deal with the experience and, after 25 years, it doesn’t have a strong hold over me.
I’m talking about it now because we all have things happen in our lives which are less than awesome. It doesn’t have to be something as violating as being raped. While people often advise us to remember that, ‘there’s always someone worse off’ when something happens to us, no matter what it is, it feels raw and powerful. And it’s these feelings that we harness as writers.
It’s human nature to avoid thinking about the bad stuff but by ‘going there’ as writers we’re able to imbue our work with greater authenticity. We remember what it’s like to be truly scared or hurt or angry and write experiences for our characters that ring true to our readers. When a character in my work is truly scared, I think back to the scariest moments in my life, including that moment, and use it to bring my work to life.
Some moments from your past, particularly difficult moments, will be too fresh or painful to use in your writing. That’s OK. Don’t torture yourself. Most likely in time you’ll be able to reflect on those moments without feeling upset by them, but you need to give yourself that time first.
Don’t dwell on those negative experiences either. Just as one chapter doesn’t make an entire book, one experience doesn’t make an entire life. Use your memories to inform your work and then let them go again. If you can’t, it may be a sign that it’s too raw at the moment or that you need some help to put that experience behind you.
All lives are made of good and bad experiences. To be fully human, and to make our fictional worlds authentic, we need to embrace both the good and the bad and make it work for us.
Note: After writing this post I wanted to put a featured image with it. I looked for a man in a balaclava because the man who raped me wore a balaclava. Interestingly, just looking at the images made me nervous and uncomfortable. Just goes to show what small details can continue to stay with you after the event.