A little over a week ago, I wrote a death scene.
This isn't really newsworthy, I know. Thousands of writers write death scenes every day, if I had to guess. And, really, I generally don't write about the specifics of my writing, as they're pretty boring. No one cares about them but me.
But writing this death scene nearly made me cry...and I was totally sober.
Years and years ago, I read an interview with Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and Dollhouse, and the guy most people will know as the director of the upcoming Avengers movie. In the interview, he talked about how he locked himself in a room and wrote a scene involving Buffy and Angel, who were, for lack of a better term, star crossed lovers. He talked about how he acted the scene out, right there in the room, and how it devastated him emotionally, because while he was writing it, he was living it.
When I read that interview, I thought it was a little bit insane, which is funny, given that it's something I've always done with my writing, too. Okay, I might not actually act things out out loud, but I still act them out. And, yes, sometimes I get emotionally involved, but those are the moments when I know what I'm writing is working.
Of all the stories I turned in to workshops throughout my college career, only one really seemed to gain any traction with my professors and my peers. It was called "Mercurial" and you can find it in the collection in the link. I cried when I wrote it. I won't deny that. I cried when I wrote it and I think the fact that I was able to get to that place was why it worked, why people responded to it.
I should point out that, given I was in grad school at the time, it is not unreasonable to assume that I was drunk when I wrote the aforementioned story. It's always easier to get to a crying place with alcohol. Side note: I gave that story to visiting professor Francois Camoin. He referred to it as "the story written on drugs," which I should really be using as a pull quote.
I would get choked up here and there, but the next time I would go full on cry was while writing "Unrequited." Writing that story was rough enough, but the ending took a real toll on me. Looking back on that time in my life, though, I would say there's a really good chance I was drunk when I wrote that, too.
My next big moment of break down while writing came when I was working on my book, "I Pray Hardest When I'm Being Shot At." The thing about "Pray..." is that it's a true story, so when it came to crying about the subject matter I really didn't need a social lubricate, although I admit that it might have been involved.
All of this, then, leads me to last week, when I wrote a death scene and I nearly broke down into tears, even though I was stone cold sober. Not unlike a psychiatrist, I view crying as a good thing, and the fact that I came close to crying while totally sober just as good. I think I might actually fear for my sanity a bit had I really broken down last week.
And I also think this death scene has power.
In fact, it has so much power that I've now been forced to go back and make all the chapters that lead up to it better.
Here is one of the great insanities of being a writer: making myself cry is the goal, and is the high water mark of success. But, you know, so far all of the stories that have made me cry have managed to strike a chord with those who read them, so it seems like it's a goal that pays off.
At the very least, it's good to know that I'm not just crying in my office alone for nothing.