I learned recently that my agent—the man, the myth, the legend, Steve Laube—speaking at a writers conference, quoted something I’d said in a recent conference keynote. Yes, you read that right! The Great One actually quoted me! Me! And it wasn’t the usual “Can you believe anyone is that stupid?” sort of allusion. It was in a favorable context, as though I’d said something of value.
Well, slap my face and call me Red.
In my keynote, I had mentioned a Zoom meeting in which I was talking to a fellow writer and teacher of writing. She said she’d met me at a writers conference years before, in an editorial appointment (these are valuable features of many such events, providing writers the opportunity to meet with editors, agents, and accomplished authors, to receive feedback and advice—and even, every great once-in-a-while, a promise of publication). This person told me that she had handed me her manuscript; I read it; and when I finished reading, she said I asked, “Why are you angry?”
I was horrified. I said, “Nooo! I didn’t.”
She laughed and said, “Yes, you did.”
I said, “I’m so sorry.”
“No,” she said, “you were right. I was writing from a place of anger.”
I had no memory of that meeting. And I don’t think I’ve ever said something so blunt and unsympathetic to anyone else in an appointment. (Please don’t provide examples in the comments.)
But I had a point in telling that story to 500 or more writers. Because we’ve all suffered pain—in life, from family and friends, even in pursuing writing for publication.
But whatever pain haunts you and still hurts you, my advice is to give yourself the time and space to recover. Yes, writing about your pain may be cathartic; it may be therapeutic—for you. But it won’t help your reader if you’re still bleeding. It gets all over the pages. It makes a mess. It’s just not a good look.
If you’re writing something you intend for publication, don’t try to write about it while you’re still bleeding. Let it scab, let it heal, and even scar.
Write from scars, not open wounds; and you’ll be in a much better place to write something that will help others.