Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Dave Wolverton – Why Writing is a Form of Personal Therapy

Why Writing is a Form of Personal Therapy

As an author, I get dozens of ideas every day.  Sometimes the ideas really call to me, and other times they don’t.

Let me give you an example.   When I was young, a neighborhood boy brought some bear cubs to school.  His father trained bear-hunting dogs, and had killed a bear, only to find out afterward that she had two cubs.

So the family was raising the bears, and I thought that they were wonderful.  They were playful and inquisitive, lumbering around the classroom at school, knocking encyclopedias off the bookshelf.  But I was most impressed by their deep brown eyes.  They seemed to exude warmth, and humor, and curiosity.

As an adult author, I once thought, “I should write a story about bears.  It could be about bears evolving to the next level, as tool users.”   Well, like most of my fleeting ideas, I didn’t act on it.  I have hundreds of ideas for stories for every story that I have time to write.

But a couple of years later, an author named Terry Bisson wrote a story called “Bears Discover Fire.”  In it, a man gets lost in the woods and sees a campfire in the distance.  He wanders to the edge of the forest to find . . . a group of bears sitting around a campfire, occasionally grunting or snuffling at one another.

The story went on to win several awards, and I was left with the feeling, “I could have written that story.”  But I didn’t, and I wondered why not.

On another occasion, a young writer came to me with an outline for a story.  It lacked conflict, the characters seemed boring.  I could tell that it wouldn’t go anywhere, and I told her so.  She wrote the story anyway, and it was brilliant.  Why?

In both cases, I think that the answer is the same: the conflict.  In every story there is an underlying conflict, one that calls to you.  As a writer, you may not understand why it speaks to you, but very often I do.  It has to do with the unresolved conflicts in your own life.

As readers, the stories that appeal to us most are the ones that touch us most deeply.  As writers, the stories that cry to be written are the also the ones that touch us most deeply.

When I read stories for contests, I can often tell what kinds of pain a writer is going through.  “This writer is having a crisis of faith,” I might think.  “This writer is about to come out of the closet.”  “This one was abused by her mother.”

As a child, were you often teased and humiliated?  Then you may find yourself writing tales about protagonists who suffer humiliation.  As a teen, did your mother die?  Then you will find yourself drawn to tales about children who are abandoned.

As an author, I look for those touchstones from my past.  I know that with every story that I write, I’m playing upon my own phobias, my own pain, the things that affected me most in life.  At the same time, as I draw upon those touchstones, I recognize that I have an audience out there, and I need to make those kinds of conflicts universal, to try to speak to a global audience.

Writing good stories is therapy for me, and reading good stories can be a form of therapy for others.  Ultimately, I feel that a value of a story must be measured not by how eloquent the author is, or how deeply intellectual, but by this: “Does this story make the world a better place?”

WotF Vol 29

Turn the page…open your eyes…and look into the future

They unleash the power of dreams and unlock the secrets of the universe.

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They are the Writers of the Future. Experience their vision.

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Genre - Science Fiction/Fantasy

Rating – PG13

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