Man in balaclava

How I Use My Childhood Rape in My Writing

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.

Everyone has an opinion

Five Reasons Experience is the Best Teacher You’ll Ever Have

Everyone knows that we learn best through experience and here are my five reasons why:

1) Experience is Patient

Eventually, even the most dedicated teachers have to draw a line is the sand and say that there’s no more time to learn something. Be it because the student just isn’t getting it, or because the end of the year looms and there simply isn’t any more time left. But this isn’t the case with Experience. Experience is patient. It might take you years to finally get the lesson but that’s ok with Experience. It’s in it for as long as it takes.

I’ve written three complete manuscripts in the last five years but only one has ever made it to a point where I would consider it ready for submission. That’s thousands and thousands of words and countless hours but the experience of writing has (and will continue) to make me a better writer.

2: Experience Can Be Cruel to be Kind

Some experiences just suck. That break up, this unflattering orange top, that weekend when you painted the kitchen and dropped a can of paint all over the floor (that was last weekend for me), all these experiences and a thousand more I haven’t mentioned are not nice. But, just like the friend that tells you that your bum does look big in that skirt, Experience knows that sometimes it’s better to take the knock and learn from it now, than to keep making the same mistakes.

3. Experience Teaches the Individual

When I was teaching, my colleagues and I put a lot of emphasis on individualised learning experiences. That’s because everyone learns differently. Experience knows this and naturally tailors its lessons to suit you. So, you’re not the only one in the world who needs to learn that rejection isn’t the end of the world, but your experience of that will be unique to you.

4. Experience Doesn’t Hand Out Grades

Grades are basically a benchmark based on what others think we should be able to do. In other words, they compare us to each other. But Experience doesn’t care about what other people your age can do, it only cares about what you can do. Experience will never tell you  that you’ve failed, because Experience knows learning is about growth, not grades.

5. Experience Really Does Want What’s Best for You

No matter how loud you yell at Experience or how hard you slam your door, Experience is still on your side. It may seem mean and unfair but Experience is pushing you to grow. Spent three hours putting up shelves only to find they’re as level as a slide? Next time you’ll use a spirit level. And while you may be cursing Experience (and shelves, your spouse and gravity in general), Experience has taught you a valuable lesson.

 

So, what has Experience taught you?