Let it out: 5 Steps to Writing when Emotional

Yesterday, which started with the announcement that the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teens had been recovered and ended for me with a shiva call, kept me in such a state of horror and confusion, I didn’t get much writing done. After several failed attempts at work, I finally gave up and decided to develop a community action project I’d dreamed up instead.

While everyone else was asleep…

Late at night, I awoke, exhausted but still reeling from the emotional turmoil of my day. So many words seemed to bubble out of me, I couldn’t get back to sleep. Eventually, I got out of bed and wrote the first draft of an essay about the special lady whose shiva I’d attended earlier in the day. When I was done, I felt emptied out, much calmer and more ready to sleep.

But is it good writing?

While writing material at the moment I am wrapped up in heartache, delirious joy, or nervousness can help me work through my feelings, I find that the outcome usually isn’t my best writing, or even my most passionate writing to read. Word choice suffers, and is often redundant. Logic wavers. Sometimes the resulting text is downright incoherent. You might even call it Writing Under the Influence…of Emotions. It can be that circuitous, drawling, and dribbling.

I’ve developed a process that works for me in these moments.

5 Steps to Writing when Emotional

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Soul-bearing writing–writing personal essays that are a little too personal for comfort

Tablet published a new piece of mine today, about the untidy family life of a person who is an Orthodox Jew with relatives who are devout Christians. The comments are busy, and no trolls have appeared so far (meaning that anyone who disagrees with me does so with politeness and reflection).

I’ve published the piece because the problem I described in the article is a surprisingly common one  (among the “baalei teshuvos” who come to religiosity as adults) that most people ignore.

It’s sorta mortifying. This is a problem that is very private for me, and–like many who share it–it is a source of pain that I usually sweep under the rug. I’ve had to explain the absence of half of my family to many people over the years, and it’s never comfortable. Now the entire world can read about it (and share! and comment!).

In general, I don’t write about my family unless it is 100% positive. I felt that this needed to be an exception, in order to support people who share this type of situation. I intentionally omitted the name of my father’s family, and I tried to protect their identities. I wanted not to expose them, but the problem. Nonetheless, one of the commenters pointed out that I was still airing my family’s laundry in public.

I’d love it if readers weighed in here (in a comment below) or in the comments section on Tablet.

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