What inspiration can be found in the stress of family and marriage life? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
"Without my struggles, I wouldn't have known my strength." -Alex Elle
Loving someone through good days and family vacations is easy. Loving someone through a family crisis is the true test, and the most rewarding. The things you survive together make you stronger as a couple and as a family. And if you're a writer, all the bad stuff is compost for your writing soil. (Sorry, my inner gardener's showing.)
My stress and the stress I place on my characters have a symbiotic relationship. I learned a long time ago that rather than fight the negative connotations of being part of the sandwich generation, I could use those emotions to fuel my writing. When my mother fell and smashed up her elbow in such spectacular fashion that she was in the hospital for 6 ½ weeks, I had to figure out how to get back to England while the alarm was ringing on my deadline clock. Suddenly, my hero acquired a whole new level of stress with his aging mother. Hell, after all, is for friends.
While I was working on the suicide scene in my second novel, my son was going through a mental health crisis. Playing with an imaginary friend who was in a dark place actually brought relief because I could control the outcome. I could write the ending I wanted. Some days, I think writing is about creating a better story for my family.
I always embrace negative emotions and use them as character research. Pushing guilt, resentment, or anger aside doesn't make them go away. They simply fester. But if you examine them to find those tertiary emotions writing guru Donald Maass talks about--the real emotion hiding behind the obvious one--there's a silver lining. It's called the deep edits.
Look at writer and musician Mikel Jollett, who turned a ton of personal crap into one of my favorite bands, The Airborne Toxic Event. You can mine family crises for creative gold. And the best part? The emotions that appear on the page will be authentic. This sounds cold and calculating, but to me it's therapy and survival. Writing feeds my soul and keeps me singing. Also, my guys are ridiculously proud of me, which recycles all those warm fuzzies that cement the family glue.
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