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Confessions of a Dirty Blonde :: On writing through the hard sh*t

The best kind of writing is the visceral stuff, when logic and rational thinking are secondary to your guts burning. When you’ve forgotten you’re holding your breathe until you gasp for it again. If we can wrap people in our arms while we share our darkest places, we’ve made them a reader for life.

That’s not to say it’s easy to do, though, as most of us are scared to show our scars.

What you find, once you have the courage, is that unveiling your nightmares makes them real again. You have dreams about the events. Or unresolvable, emotional outbursts. And, sometimes, it’s just too much to handle, so you wonder why you even started writing down the details to begin with.

This is the place so many writers stop. When it gets too hard or too heavy. Living a healthy, safe life is something we all want to do, so cutting the writing seems the best answer.

Except writers don’t forget what they want to share.

If you’ve found yourself paralyzed by fear, there are ways to continue working through your manuscript without debilitating yourself.

First, understand that writing about all-things-sad takes longer to complete.

You’ll be emotionally drained, physically exhausted and confused by both. The best way to navigate your feelings is to write them down. But you limit the amount of time you work on anything triggering. Yes, even more than you limit your writing time on any other project.

I wrote the terrors of my life before I could write anything else. My brain needed to be decluttered. But it also took me longer than writing other content, as I forced myself to only write for fifteen minutes at a time. Twice a day, for fifteen minutes, I sat down and broke up what I needed to free myself from. If, at the end of each allotted amount of time, I wasn’t feeling triggered, then I would complete them back-to-back. But I refused to do more than thirty minutes in a day. Otherwise the nightmares were too vivid. And the anxiety made me shake while I tried to teach.

It’s not worth it to work longer and get it done faster. Respect your body and yourself, and give it time to process the raw emotion you’re writing on the page.

Instead of a critique partner, find someone who will let you vent.

Talking to a friend about the difficulties you’re feeling is practice for when you publish. You’ll be able to navigate your own emotions while processing your own story. In doing this, you’ll gain clarity and purpose in your writing. Not only are you learning how to talk through the pain, which then diminishes it, but you’re also preparing yourself for publication: making you more ready for the hard questions that follow sharing your words.

Finally, be brave enough to write about something else on the days when you need a break.

Quitting entirely is one of the worst things you can do. But if you’re feeling a physical response to the emotion being written, it’s time to allow yourself to heal again.

Ripping off Band-Aids is good in theory, but not in this situation. When I tried to force myself to continue, even on the days my fingers shuttered, I found myself stuck, feeling unable to complete anything, including daily responsibilities.

Respect yourself enough to know that taking one day off isn’t going to ruin your flow. Write about something else. Anything. Here are a few options:

  • Fuzzy bunnies
  • Why on Earth I named my chihuahua Huckleberry.
  • How Beckster and I can be friends when we are ying and yang about nearly everything except the usefulness of the word fuck.
  • Your toes.
  • Peanut butter.
  • The best picture you’ve ever taken.

Chose something non-triggering to write about, even if it’s off task. If fuzzy bunnies didn’t get you going, choose something else. Simple. A grocery list. An email. Anything.

Most importantly, you need to remember when you open yourself in your writing, is that you’ve been through worse, and you’re still standing.

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Got writing questions for Capo? Email capo@rebeccatdickson.com. Confessions of a Dirty Blonde goes out every Thursday.

Confessions of a Dirty Blonde :: Pint-sized words can go

Most writers focus on clarity with their nouns and verbs, but allow the rest of their sentences to clutter their work. The details become big problems, and using multiple words when one, clear word would work confuses readers. As you’re editing, be sure to look for pint-sized words causing gallons of problems.

Streamlining your words isn’t difficult, if you know where to look. Common phrases we use in conversation use more words than necessary are bloated, but we keep them because they’re comfortable. We need to clear it up. All of it.

If you don’t, the reader spends more time navigating than hearing your message. Be clear, concise and confident: qualities magnetic to them.

So where can you find these orgies in your writing? Prepositions and prepositional phrases.

Prepositions identify relationships between words. They detail space (over, through, under, between, above, across, by, on), and time (until, before, since, during, after). Prepositional phrases use more words to indicate where or when something happens.

Let’s play.

Example: We walked in the direction of the sun, covering our eyes from the blinding rays.

Problem: The sentence stands, but it could be clearer. The prepositional phrase “in the direction of” could be removed and rewritten with fewer words.

Solution: We walked in the direction of toward the sun, covering our eyes from the blinding rays.

I replaced five words with one and the message is intact, easier for the reader to find.

Example: I heard children laughing, their guts exploding with joy, on the other side of the street.

Where’s the prepositional phrase? “on the other side of”

Better modification: Across.

“I heard children laughing, their guts exploding with joy, across the street.

While it might seem a tiny problem now, imagine this on a larger scale: a complex sentence detailing setting. Or an entire book without editing prepositions for clarity. Riddled with words that don’t tell your story.

Google a list of prepositions, print it out and leave it by your desk. When you begin editing, you’ll have easy access to substitutable words for unnecessary phrases.

The best part of editing your own work before submitting to an editor is these easy fixes won’t be where they’re looking. More bang for your buck, and – let’s be honest – that’s what we all want, isn’t it?

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Got writing questions for Capo? Email capo@rebeccatdickson.com. Confessions of a Dirty Blonde goes out every Thursday.