The Emotional Life of a Writer

by Jim Denney

To me, writing is not so much a mental activity as an emotional activity. When I’m writing well, I’m not thinking about the words — I’m feeling the emotions, and those emotions pour out of me in the form of words spilling onto a page.

I wrote my Timebenders science fantasy series for middle grade readers from the fall of 2001 to the spring of 2002. I had just finished the first book in the series, Battle Before Time, and was about to start the second book when something horrible happened: the terror attacks of 9/11. That event cast a pall on my emotions that was far deeper than I realized at the time. Some of my writer friends stopped writing for weeks after the tragedy. I was on a tight deadline, so I had to keep writing.

I finished the first draft of the second book, titled Doorway to Doom, in January 2002. After I finished the draft, I went back, read it through, and made a startling discovery. More than half of the book took place in darkness — in a dungeon, in caverns, in catacombs, in a forest at night. The book was very, very dark, because I had written it in a time of dark emotions.

Jyrki Salmi - Jackdaw Alder Grove

“The Dark Forest Ranger,” a jackdaw in a dark alder grove, photo by Jyrki Salmi of Finland, used under terms of Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License.

I had to go back and rewrite the book, cutting out much of the darkness and writing in more scenes of light. By the time I had finished the third and final draft, I was very happy with the book, and especially its balance of moods. It remains my favorite entry in the series. In fact, I think my dark mood during the initial writing phase deepened the emotional intensity of the story. The final rewrite lightened the mood just enough, and gave it an emotional ebb and flow — from darkness to light, from fear to faith, from gloom to hope.

Though I love to write, I don’t enjoy writing when I feel gloomy or angry or sad. I have found that it’s important, as a writer, to have peace and joy in my relationships — both my relationship with God and my relationships with other people. Conflict and emotional upheaval interfere with my judgment, making it hard for me to know whether something I’ve written is good or bad.

We don’t always have the luxury of choosing our emotional state. Whether my emotions are in a good place or a dark place, I must keep writing. What do I do, then, when I’m in a dark emotional state?

The only thing that gets me through a dark place in my writing career is prayer.

I say, “Lord, please take these emotions out of my way. You know what needs to be written. I don’t feel I can write it today. Please come and write it through me. Silence the noise and distractions, shine Your light into my darkness, and give me Your peace that passes understanding.”

Then I look at my screen, think about what I want to express, and wait for God to answer my prayer. His answer always comes.

And as the sentences start to fill the screen, I quickly and quietly say, “Thank You, Lord.”

___________________________________

Note: Battle Before Time, the first book in my newly revised and updated Timebenders series for young readers, has just been released in paperback. Click this link to learn more.J.D.

 

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