The Emotional Toll of Writing ~ Outside the Margins with Brigham Vaughn

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Attractive Young Muscular Man Taking Shower

I’m roughly sixty to seventy percent of the way into the first draft of a novel, and it’s a brutal one. Chris, the main character, deals with death and grief and guilt. It’s the most emotionally ambitious story I’ve ever told. I started it two years ago and had to set it aside. I wasn’t ready for it.

At the time, I thought it was because I wasn’t mature enough for it as a writer. And maybe that’s part of it. But I think it was also because, subconsciously, I knew what I’d have to dig into to tell it well.

For whatever period of time it takes me to tell a story, I assume portions of that character. I slip them on like a second skin. But the more emotionally intense the story is, the more those layers merge. The more of myself I have to bring out. I experienced it with “Partners” when I wrote about Stephen saying goodbye to his father. (Yes, death and grief do appear to be recurring themes in my books) I experienced it with Jeremy and Evan’s characters in the “Connection” series when they battled their doubts and fears.

The deeper I get into a story and the characters, the deeper I have to dip into my own feelings and project them onto the page. They are in my head like a stage play just waiting to be transcribed.

It’s an awesome, incredible experience to connect to your characters that way. To see them in your head and bring them to life. But there’s a piece of me that ends up embedded in them and a piece of them that stays with me.

So when I’m writing about Chris grieving his brother’s death, I’m grieving too. I can’t flinch or shy away, without doing the story a disservice. So I have to ride it out. Hold these emotions within me in until the moments of catharsis and resolution.

Today, I wrote the end scene (there’s still bits in the middle I need to write). I was crying by the time I finished and it was such a relief to let the emotions out.

Creativity, like everything else in life, ebbs and flows. The words are a heavy flow right now, pouring out of me in every aspect of my life. The emotions that come with it are pouring forth too and lately I’ve been realizing that they need to be taken into account as well.

Chris is in depths of grief and guilt right now and I’m there with him as the story unfurls on the page. As I go through my day-to-day life, I have to remember that I’m carrying him with me. In October, I had a week where I was in a foul mood. I snapped at people who didn’t deserve it and my usual optimism was nowhere to be found. I felt snarly and surly about everything.

There were a number of factors, of course. Lots of little things piling up all at once. But I was so surprised when I realize that part of it was because of this novel I’m writing. I was carrying all of these emotions and had no outlet for them.

I find the writing process so fascinating because even though I’ve been doing this for years, there’s always something new to learn. This realization took me by surprise, but ever since it’s been easier to deal with.

The emotional toll of writing a story is one of those things is one of those things that no one tells you about in English class. But maybe they should.

Here’s a teaser from Chapter 3 of the novel (tentatively titled: “In Mourning”)

It had been months since I’d been touched by anyone, and even before Cal’s death, I’d been struggling with loneliness. The death of my brother had gutted me, and I certainly was drunk the night before, but none of those were good excuses. I should have had the presence of mind to tell Elliot no, to walk away. If I’d wanted to, I could have gone to a club, found some random guy to go home with.

If it had been with anyone but Elliot, I would have been okay with what happened, but the fact that I’d let myself get involved with Cal’s lover was unforgivable.

My brother, the boy I held just hours after he was born, was dead. We’d played together and fought in equal measure, Cal’s adventurous, devil-may-care attitude urging him to explore everything, consequences be damned. He was fierce, forging forward while I held back, and at times I’d envied him. I was prudent, steady, cautious. I thought things through and weighed my options while Cal hurtled ahead, somehow managing to scrape by, making it work out to his advantage even when he made a colossal mistake.

Maybe it was odd, looking up to my younger brother, but I’d always wanted to be just a bit more like Cal. I wondered if he knew how much I admired him, and I realized I’d never actually said that to him in so many words.

I broke.

It began as a quiet sob that I tried to choke back, but the sudden onslaught of feelings was too much. Guilt and grief mingled and another sob escaped me. Behind my tightly clenched eyelids, I could feel the stinging press of tears before they spilled down my cheeks. Since I’d learned of Cal’s accident I’d been holding myself together, pushing myself to get through the next day without breaking down, but the emotions finally spilled over, unable to be contained any longer. I slid to the floor, muffling my harsh sobs against my forearm. Even in the hot shower, the tears felt scalding and my chest tightened as I struggled to draw in a breath.

“I’m sorry, Cal,” I murmured. “I’m so fucking sorry.”

I didn’t even know what I was sorry for. For his much too early death, maybe. For not telling him how much I admired and cared about him. For not knowing that he was bisexual and that he’d been dating someone for six months. For fucking his boyfriend in a drunken, grief-stricken state.

I let out another sob and let my head fall back against the tiled wall of the shower. The dull pain almost felt good. I certainly deserved it for what I’d done. Long after the water had run cold and goosebumps rose on my skin, I sat there, drowning in grief, wishing I was the one who had died instead of my brother.


~Brigham Vaughn

About Brigham Vaughn

Brigham Vaughn has always been a voracious reader with her own stories to tell. After many years of abandoned plots, something finally clicked. Now she’s eating, sleeping, and breathing writing and is excited to have finally figured out what she wants to be when she grows up. In the little time that isn’t spent writing or reading, she loves cooking, yoga, photography, and remodeling her ninety-year-old home. Brigham lives in Michigan with her three cats and an amazing husband who has always been her biggest champion.

Contact Brigham:
Twitter: @AuthorBVaughn

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

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