Emotions and writing

A friend recently told me that she finds it hard to write about something unless she has strong feelings for it. ‘It’ can be any thing, any person, or any thought. There is a lot of truth in that submission, I cannot help but agree.

I started blogging because I wanted to get better at writing but even then, I wrote only about things that I really cared about. This blog soon became the thing that I turned to when I had a lot on my mind and needed to organise my thoughts, rationalise my feelings, evaluate a situation…or just stand back and observe something that I deeply cared about. I could feel the words flow when I had strong emotions about what I was writing.

But isn’t that obvious?

When emotions are involved we always tend to be able to do more (good or bad). We are more energised, more enthusiastic and more focused. These strong emotions that can fuel such a rush can range from anger and jealousy to happiness and love.

It seems like the way forward then, doesn’t it? When I want to write about something I must create a strong emotion (of sort) about it and I will be able to write about it. But it’s not as easy as that. Emotions cannot always be controlled that easily. One needs to experience a particular string of events to be able to create that emotion and more often than not we don’t know what are those particular string of events to help us achieve this.

Just when I seemed lost I came across A. J. Jacob’s talk on ted. com.

An editor at Esquire magazine, he takes his writing very seriously. He dives right into it to be able to write about it. He calls his life a series of experiments:

  • He read the whole 32 volumes of an Encyclopedia for a whole year and then a wrote book called The know-it-all.
  • He asked some people in India to live his life for him for a couple of months and then wrote an article called My outsourced life.
  • He spent a whole year living by the words of the bible, literally and wrote a book called A year living biblically

Surely having been through such experiences for extended times (sometimes a year) of his life, must have benefited him in more than one way. It must have not just given him ‘stuff’ to write about but also create emotions that he could use in his writing. In his talk, you may realise that certain events stirred his emotions (such as the last two months of the year when his wife wouldn’t kiss him because he had decided not to shave or the time when he had to stand in his own house because he couldn’t sit on seat where a woman sat during her periods).

Emotion: Shock! I haven't missed the opportunity of harnessing this emotion in my writing.

Of course, it may not always (rather it may rarely) be the most practical way to be able to write well. But then why not treat writing as actors treat acting. Actors dive in to being the person they want to play: they bend their way of thinking to be able to respond the way the character would’ve responded or they push their emotional frontiers such that they can feel the emotions that the character would’ve felt. Basically, they try to become the character by doing what they can so that the character feels real on-screen. Aren’t we all in awe of great performances where we are not able to distinguish the celebrity from the character?

Can writers do something similar? Become actors so that they can create strong emotions to be able to harness the power of emotions to write. Or do good writers already do that?

6 thoughts on “Emotions and writing”

  1. i always feel that my written pieces are better when the subject is close to my heart, or the experience is extremely memorable. but my main enemy is procrastination. and after that time passes, i dont have the same energy and enthusiasm to pen it down… so i think that diving straight into your writing sounds like a great idea…

  2. So right, Akshat. When you become a professional writer your success will be gauged by your ability to bring that passion into everything you write. Try writing an insightful but arcane and boring financial markets article, or on some machine tool industry. If you ask a writer past his 60s to write on sex, he could be as good as a young writer not because he is still virile, but because he has mastered the art of writing. But even then you will find the youngster much better able to relate to the topic than the 60-year-old all because the former brings forth that passion naturally.

  3. Yeah man, when you write about topics close to your heart/of your interest it spices up the whole writing process and the words come out like you are some kind of dictionary. Thanks for the link of the talk – interesting stuff indeed! And yes keep on writing!

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