I really wanted to title this post “There’s No Crying in Writing” but that would be just wrong. Maybe crying while writing is more of a memoir thing, especially when you’re writing a memoir about death and cancer. Or maybe it’s a female thing. Crying is a natural, biologically driven response for women. Women actually have more of a protein called prolactin (more as in 60 percent more!) than men, which triggers crying (and also lactation, but that’s another blog post). Crying is good for you, keeping your eyes healthy, releasing stress, ridding the body of toxins and of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Maybe this blog post is just me justifying my propensity for tears. (Read about the times I cried at work on this blog article titled “There’s No Crying in Welding.” (Hey, the title worked there.)
I don’t actually weld, but when I write I cry. All the time. It’s annoying. It slows me down. It makes it hard to write certain scenes, scenes where I have to access the tough emotions (this is probably where fiction writers and poets can relate).
And there is a part of me that thinks that if I don’t feel deep emotion when I’m writing there is no way any reader is going to feel emotion either.
The January/February issue of Poets & Writers included a great article, “The Heart and the Eye: How Description Can Access Emotion,” by J.T. Bushnell. Unfortunately it is not available online, else I’d offer up a link, but I am going to quote from it:
“By description I mean the concrete, the things we can observe with our five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. I do not mean simple adjectives. I do not mean descriptions such as ‘The weather was glorious.’ Glory is an abstraction, a category of word that George Orwell calls meaningless. By itself, the word glorious is useless because it can’t show us anything concrete. It can’t show a white-hot sun perched overhead, or a sky so hard and blue that a fly ball might shatter it. It can’t show a pitcher’s shadow puddled under his cleats, or heat rising from the ground in shimmering corrugation. It can’t produce the smell of hot aluminum bleachers, or the lubricated slide of a sweaty armpit, or a sunburn tightening the skin on the back of your neck. It can’t let you taste the sweat on your lip when you go too long between slugs of cold beer. Only concrete description can do that. ”
So your challenge for this week: look at whatever you’re working on and remove words like “pretty” and “glorious” and any other concept word and replace it with detailed descriptions. Thus, “Autumn was pretty.” becomes “Autumn was tall and thin with long straight brown hair, her brown eyes catlike, her face heart-shaped, her cheekbones high….” (or something like that)
Then have a good cry!