I'm going to do my best to stay away from politics today, but bear with me if I wander a bit too close to the line. Yesterday was 9/11 and for so many Americans it brought up a myriad of emotions. I'm not going to write about who did what to whom -- we know what happened and we each have our own interpretations on cause and effect. What I do want to talk about is how traumatic events -- be they events that hit on a national level like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor or events that are purely personal -- affect our writing.
I don't know about you, but writing for me has always been as much therapeutic as it is creative. When I don't write for a long period of time, I feel it. It is that outlet for me in much the same way physical activity is. It is the one time I can be totally inside myself and let my thoughts and feelings come pouring out, whether it is in a journal entry or in writing a new book or short story.
But what really brought this home is a project I'm considering going back to. It's one of those toss it under the bed and let it mature or it will never see the light of day sort of projects. You know the ones I mean. It's that book or short story that insisted it be written but, once done, there is nothing you can do at that time to make it into something that can be sold.
Well, this novel is just that sort of thing. Not only is it waaaaaaay too long. We're talking goat-gagging length of almost 250k words. So massive editing needs to be done. Editing on the scale I couldn't have accomplished 2 years ago, much less 9 plus years ago. It is also a split-personality book. And that is where emotional reaction to a traumatic event comes in.
A little background. This book is a space opera. That's what it started out to be and that is what is remains -- even if it is a big, bloated space opera right now. Like a number of space operas, politics played a role in the plot. But it started out as being very much in the background, mentioned only to explain why a couple of things happened. Pre-9/11, it was a character-driven novel.
Then 9/11 happened and I suddenly understood the emotion I'd seen in my parents when they spoke of Pearl Harbor. The feeling of safety I'd known growing up, something the duck and cover drills in elementary school never took away from me. Sure, on an intellectual level I knew there was always the possibility of someone attacking us. You can't grow up during the Cold War and not have that drilled into you. But, you see, I never believed it would happen.
That belief was shattered on 9/11. While the images of the Twin Towers will always haunt me, the feeling I will always remember is that quick spark of fear, of breathless waiting as I stood in line outside the local blood bank that afternoon and talking with several American Airlines executives waiting along with so many others to donate blood. We'd been discussing how strange it was to see no planes in the air. None of us had realized until then how used we'd become, living as close to DFW airport as we did, to the constant sight of multiple planes overhead. Having an empty sky was unsettling.
Then a hush fell over the crowd -- and it was a crowd. At that time, there were approximately 100 of us standing in line waiting to give blood. All eyes had gone skyward and were fixed on a single aircraft flying much too low for comfort. No markings on the plane. All we knew was that it shouldn't be there and it was flying eastward, perhaps toward the airport or perhaps toward Dallas and its skyscrapers. Now, nothing happened and we learned later it was a federal agency plane doing a flyover. Still, that fear, that spark of anger at the thought the horror was about to visit close to home remained.
And it translated into the space opera. A third of the way through the book, it suddenly changed. Suddenly gone was the nice, almost light-hearted romp of approximately 100k words. In its place was a hard-hitting, political novel with too much of everything. But it was what I needed to help process and deal with what had happened that terrible day. And, because I didn't consider myself a "real" writer back then, I finished the novel and under the bed it went.
But it didn't disappear from my head. It stayed on that very back burner all these years, pushing forward from time to time, as if to see if I was ready to look at it again. Until recently, I wasn't. But this past week, those occasional pokes became persistent and I pulled it out. Somewhere in there, between the lame attempt at being light-hearted and the heavy-handed political response to 9/11, is a good book struggling to come out. I can feel it, if that makes sense. Now I have to put butt in chair and bring that book it can be out. That means reading the original and remembering all those emotions that were poured into it and then figuring out the best way to rewrite it. Most likely, it will be from scratch. That's okay. The original served its purpose -- or should I say purposes? -- in that it let me write the story and let me get out and process some of the emotions that ran so strongly through me 9 years ago.
So, do events, personal or national, influence your writing? How do you use your writing to help process or deal with these events? Or am I the only one this happens to?