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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In case you need to feel validated for writing literary fiction, science will back you up

I’m not usually the type to post an hour before Shabbos starts, but this news item (first heard this morning during the break between some Mozart and some Corelli on KUSC) is just too wonderful to wait.

In case you feel defensive because you still think high-quality literature belongs in schools, or you’re trying to encourage quality over quantity in your own writing (thus spending way more time on each piece than seems wise), a new study indicates that reading literary fiction (Jane Austen, Don DiLillo, Chekov, or Alice Munro) temporarily enhances a reader’s emotional intelligence.

For more, read the study’s abstract here and a New York Times piece about it here.