Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Friday, November 20, 2009

Day Twenty-- When a heinous past proves golden

Growing up with OCD is hell. I won't sugar coat it, because there is no sugary coating deep enough to take the sting off. I could tell you more but it would take too long and upset my mom--who had no idea and things like this weren't "talked about" when I was growing up.

Still, I survived. I get by. Drugs ease the pain of days and all that. Plus, and this is the real reason I'm grateful, with B having it--I know the worst of things, and I can help her so it won't affect her as much.

Also, and this can't be under-valued, living through things gives you a point of reference as a writer that you just can't research your way into.

My dad was military so I've lived a lot of different places. I've been in a lot of different schools. I've made a lot of different friends. I've had a lot of "first day at a new school" experiences.

My high school experience was bizarre--there is no other word for it. I went through the first three years in the cesspool of moral decay where gangs were prevalent and shootings were frequent, and it was a mad chaos of humanity. The last year I spent at a sheltered school where everyone, other than the guy I dated, was the same religion, and it would have been the polar extreme from where I'd come. I was never popular, but I hung with both crowds somehow. I knew a few rejects--I knew a few popular kids. I saw a lot. I was amused by both those wasting their lives and those sheltering their lives. It felt easy to get into the minds of those around me, because I noticed everything due to my OCD.

After highschool, I did a little college with a focus on English. I stayed in dorms for a while. I went to technical school. I got a job. I got into an abusive relationship. I got out. I met my husband and fell in love. We moved to the PNW--the most beautiful place on earth. I focused on my career for a few years where I met a huge scope of different people and learned what made people tick from an adult's perspective. Then, I had kids--and that opened up the world of parenting, Autism, and therapy. The husband and I went through marital difficulties due to stress. We've bought and sold houses. We've dealt with the suicide of a neighbor. People married. People divorced. People lived. People died. In the middle, I sat watching.

As writers, regardless of what you're writing, it'll only be as real as it is to you.

If you can't understand the lone girl at a new school, you can't write her story. You won't know her story. You won't know how someone will react when they've just received bad news, if you've never gotten a call in the middle of the night--or sat in a doctor's office and heard the words that would change your life. If you've never fallen in love, you can't know what it feels like for the rush of emotions--and the way your heart feels a little like it wants to explode.

If you've never been to Prom, you can't feel the magic.

If you've never been to a funeral, you can't understand the unreality despite proof.

It's true that we'll still need to take a few steps out into the dark of imagination and fill in blanks, but writing a novel shouldn't feel like grasping. You should be able to step into a different pair of shoes and know a few of the steps so you can imagine the journey and the dance.

Anyway, I was thinking about what I've lived through and how much it's impacted my writing. I know why people are the way they are. I know why I am the way I am.

There are days I'd want a redo on despite their value to a writer, so I'm grateful we don't get that chance. If I had to have it easy, I would. Having it hard, though, has been the best resource for my writing, and it's not something you can duplicate or hand to someone else other than through your characters.

One of my friends said that one of my characters is the most like me, but I find myself thinking that every last one of my characters is a little like me--even if it's just in the tiniest way. I'm them. They're me.

Okay, this is a little deep for a Friday--especially after a bunch of silly Flash fiction.

Still, has anyone else thought of how much the bad experiences as well as the good have impacted their lives? Were there specific experiences that really taught you about human nature?

I'll be gone for most of the day, so we'll call it "unplugging" because I also want to work on Scorched. I got a sudden burst of inspiration last night after a week of shuffling along, and I want to work on it before I take off for the rest of the day. Have a good weekend everyone!


  1. I moved around a lot because my dad was military, too, so I can relate. High school is definitely a prime arena for experiencing human nature, lol.

    But sometimes I think I put too much of myself into my writing when drafting a scene that is emotionally uncomfortable. Just because I'd react that way, doesn't mean my character will. Need to work on that.

    Great post! Enjoy your weekend.

  2. You're right, Tere. There is such a thing as pushing our characters to be clones of us. It is important to know the difference. I base some of my characters on people I've met over the years in addition to myself, but it's all from my perspective--and colored by that.

  3. I've written on this a lot--how far is too far in making our characters look just like us or someone else we know? Is it wrong to replicate difficult past happenings and sensationalize them into stories? I try to draw from the strong emotions of a complicated past and am *learning* to focus that into a positive outlook for my characters or other personal writings.

    My sister (hontherange.blogspot.com) is reading through a book called "The Artist's Way." This book encourages you to focus on negative experiences, however, to create from them! I guess it's all a matter of perspective and what you hope to accomplish!

  4. "In the middle, I sat watching"--love that line. I connect with this, but maybe every writer does. Tucking away bits and pieces of life until it bursts into the middle of a story.

    When I first began writing, everything I created was sunny with a chance of happy ending. But over the years, I realized the power of yucky moments to make the beautiful ones shine. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. The best parts of my book are the ones I've pulled from real life. I'm a big advocate of living what you write to whatever extent is comfortable and possible. That's why I've been to Egypt twice!

  6. I definitely draw from the negative experiences of my life in my writing... child abuse, a cheating grandfather, a dead exboyfriend, a manic episode. These are the moments that sculpted the person I became. In writing about them through a character, I find a way to reconcile and come to terms with it all.

    I am not saying I am thankful to have lived through all of these experiences, but I do believe that they have enhanced my writing. Maybe, it's the other way around. My writing has enchanced the experiences.

  7. Wendy… (Just so you know, I read a little of your post, then had to write my comment as I read along.) In life you come across these blogs that you find interesting, their authors witty. And then one day you read a “buddy” blog and it hits home, like freakishly hits home. (It’s the comments of a blog so all I can say is OCD, email me and we can talk.) Then I get to your “my dad was in military” paragraph…and I have to start typing my comment before I finish reading.

    Though my parents were never in the military I have moved 40 times in my 37 years and being the new girl at school is normal…right? Though I did not have a “gang” related issues I had moral decay surrounding me (drugs, prostitutions, more not me just in my circles.) Your “I was never popular, but I hung with both crowds somehow.” Hit like a ton of bricks. Everyone assumes I was the cheerleader/ prom queen type, pisses me off, because I have come a long way to evolve into the “Girl” I am today. But for me it was the psychology of it all that not my OCD.

    Then you get into your “after high school” paragraph…and let me just say you’ve got guts Mrs. Wendy Sparrow. You are taking off the ban of silence. We come from a generation of parents that say do not talk about that, shhh. I think this particular post is hugely open and brave.

    When you go off on your “if you ain’t lived it you can’t understand it” rant I yelled, “Amen.”

    As hard as my life has been up until now, I would never trade it. I am a strong powerful woman and those evils that cut away at my soul only sculpted the "me" you see today.

    Okay, so up until now I feel like wow, I cannot believe how much I’m like Wendy (sorry a little stalker coming out) but seriously, all your characters have a piece of you….all, yes all of mine carry a GwOE torch.

    Wendy don’t apologize for your post today…because you don’t know the day I’ve had (a deep dark hole of a day) and you post hit home with me. Thanks little girly. I hope one day we get the chance to meet.

    Your little buddy, GwOE

    Catherine – I connected with that too. You are a deep woman.. I love your blog and I think you need to tap into that side of you more. Let yourself go.

    Stephanie – Egypt twice? Lucky girl but you better visit there with your Hatshepsut loving self. BTW…I just realized I’m not following your blog. What the heck is that all about? Sorry, it was a blonde moment that I have remedied. I love all your comments , everywhere.

    And I think in the ever loving words of Diana, we would consider that a BLOG HIJACK BABY!


  8. DISCLAIMER: Freakishly lots of typos above, I have had 3 hours sleep.

  9. SarahAnn,I think you picked the best words for it. Drawing from the strong emotions of a complicated past... exactly.

    Catherine, while I will say that all my stories have happy endings, you're right in saying that the yucky moments can make that happy ending sweeter--even if it's just a relief from everything rather than a truly sugared rose petals ending.

    Stephanie, I wish I could visit what I wanted to write about rather than write about where I've visited. I think it's soooo awesome you've been to Egypt twice. I'm so completely jealous.

    Amber, I love what you said about reconciling with something through a character. I think I've done that. It makes us lucky to be writers and be able express it--or are we writers because we have it within us and we need to cope? It's a strange "which came first--chicken or the egg" idea. I run across it frequently when reading things regarding Autism. Studies indicate "blah blah blah" causes Autism, but--is it that? Or is it the fact that Autistic children tend to do things more frequently so they'll peg the radar on it. TV watching is like that. Studies keep wanting to prove that excessive TV watching causes Autism, but the reality is that kids with Autism watch TV just for the right amount of controlled sensory input. Anyway, I do know that writing has proven to be cathartic.

    GwOE, that was a solid blog hijack. LOL. You even responded to other posts. Nicely done. Very nicely done. Thorough. I respect that. You know, I've met a lot of people with OCD over the years that weren't ready to talk and deal with it. I didn't admit to having it until I was twenty-nine and only then because my daughter had it. People with OCD hide it--it's the nature of it, but once my daughter's issues came out--I was done being ashamed and hiding how truly awful it can be. So, it's cost me a job once and a few friends, but I'm open about it. I have to be. Wow, I can't believe you moved so often. You poor thing. I'm sorry you had a bad day yesterday. My day sort of sucked rocks too. I've found that my sense of humor is vital to rebounds from bad days. I had a deep dark hole of a day too. Bah! I'm sorry. I hope your weekend gets better.

  10. Wendy, you are so amazing, but that doesn't feel like enough to say about you. Thanks for being so open, it really shocks me (a good shock) how easily open you are. I don't have that kind of courage.

    Gwoe, you are starting some hijacks of your own, nice :) I'm proud of you and Wendy. I moved tons as a kid too, but because my mom couldn't get on her feet. Fifteen times by the time I started tenth grade in L.A.

  11. Truly amazing post, Wendy. I can relate to so much of what you've said here. And I absolutely believe that the hardships I've endured in my life (and there have been, and continue to be, a steady stream of trials that certainly leave their mark on my soul) have helped me bring a greater sense of reality to my writing and to my characters.