In 1998, not long after my father died, I read 1984 by George Orwell. A great novel, far from great timing. When we read a dramatic story, watch a film, listen to music, our brain releases the same chemical responses as when we experience ‘real’ emotion. Our brains don’t process fictional stimuli differently. The recovery is certainly different, but in the moment we’re there, we’re all-in. Between my father’s death and the murk of 1984 I found myself in such a funk it took some months to find balance again. Of course having a son under six months old, no doubt added to the brew of emotions.
As a writer I have found the same potential pitfall.
I don’t know if my current project is darker than The Confessions of Adam, but it has fewer highs and less humor. Writing drama or tragedy is not immediately different than reading it. Writers are the first readers of their work. We immerse ourselves in it––is there any other way?––in order to create it. For this reason we are the first to traverse (and re-traverse over and over) the emotional terrain of the narrative. Only later does the craft of making story begin to take hold. There is an early, necessary, and significant emotional investment on the part of the writer. And this is an investment on which we’d do well to keep tabs.