Understanding resistance

DIYMFA-Book-CoverOver the last few days I’ve been reading the DIY MFA book, a writing book by one of my favourite bloggers and writing teachers, Gabriela Pereira. I’m going to post a review of the entire book next week, but today I wanted to examine a specific concept in closer detail: the idea of using resistance as a guide.

This idea–the idea that resistance is a good thing because it forces you to grow into a stronger writer–is one I’ve heard stated in many different ways over the years(or, more accurately, read stated many different ways on different blogs). It’s one that resonates with me strongly, but to me it doesn’t necessarily mean forcing yourself through the piece anyway. Sometimes it means you need to stop and develop your characters or your world more thoroughly. Other times the resistance is a sign that you need to completely change the direction your story is going in.

Resistance can also mean that you need to stop and take care of yourself. This is particularly true for those of us who live with trauma and/or mental illness. Using our experiences in our writing gives it depth and can be an incredibly cathartic experience, but it can also put us back in those painful places, those painful memories. It’s the most painful when we’re writing about the traumatic experiences directly, but even writing a similar story in a completely fantastical world can drudge up the old hurt.

Here’s the thing: we absolutely must tell the painful stories, but you must not hurt yourself. Our stories have the power to reach people who are still living in the struggle, to remind them that they are not alone. They also have the power to educate people, to show the world what it is really like to live with trauma and mental illness. But we want our stories to be hopeful tales, not cautionary ones, and taking care of your mental health is crucial.

So if you’re struggling with a piece, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you stuck because of a problem with the story itself or is the story weighing you down mentally because it reminds you of something from your own past?
  • Is there a different angle you can approach the story from?
  • Can you psych yourself up for tough writing sessions with the promise of a treat afterwards?
  • Is there somebody you can call mid-writing session and vent to if you find yourself being highly triggered?

Usually I know before I even start a piece whether or not it’s going to be tough on my health, so I always schedule extra social outings and reading time when I’m working on something that’s going to drudge up hard feelings. On the first draft I often only skim the surface of these dark feelings and I take many breaks, but I know the painful stories have the most power, so I always come back to them. In fact, I’ve been working on several painful stories I’ll hopefully be sharing with the world quite soon.

How do you take care of yourself when you’re writing about things that bring up bad memories? Let me know in the comments section below!