Nothing Personal

Posted by on Jan 17, 2014 in Writing | 2 comments

I hear it all the time: “It’s nothing personal.” What does that mean anyway? Usually, that phrase is connected to strong emotions from the person being told it, and rightly so. If it was nothing personal, it wouldn’t need to be said. This actually isn’t a vent about the phrase, nor is it a plea to some unsuspecting person to not take something personally. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

As writers, we are told to write what we know, and there’s good reason for this advice. We cannot faithfully write something that we know nothing about. A reader’s reasonable suspension of disbelief will go right out the window if we have not studied our subject, if we do not know what we are talking about. That includes emotion. One cannot write emotion if one doesn’t understand emotion. If we’ve never experienced love, heartbreak, embarrassment, hate, anger, happiness, how can we convey those emotions to our readers? My last post was about observing emotion in other people, how it makes them look. With this blog, I’m turning it inward.

So, here’s my proposal: Take it personally. Feel the emotions you were granted as a human being. Explore what they mean. Describe them. Write them down if you can, when you are feeling them. I’m not saying to take your frustrations out on anyone, I’ve been in the customer service business long enough to know one person can wreck your entire day, and most of the time, their anger isn’t even directed at the person with whom they are yelling. What I’m saying is to feel your emotions. Take a moment to assess what a particular emotion does to you. Therapists call it being in the moment, and sometimes, it can almost be described as a spiritual experience. Be the observer of your own emotion. Think about where you are. Think about what your muscles are doing. Did you hunch your shoulders? Did you thrust your chin out? Did you feel pulsing in your forehead? Did you hear the blood pounding in your ears? If you have a mirror, take a look. Is your face red? Is it pale? When you start feeling an emotion, stop and take a look at what it does to you.  Have you ever laughed so hard you felt like you’d just done 50 crunches? What was your face doing at the time? Did you squint your eyes? Did tears run down your face? What thoughts ran through your head when you were in that moment? No matter how ridiculous those thoughts are, observe them. I remember being angry and frowning so hard one time that I worried I would have permanent frown lines. I was surprised that other people had the same thoughts when they were angry.

Writers are tasked with the incredible burden of tearing our souls out and putting them on paper. It’s a long, sometimes extremely painful, process, but if we do it right, our readers will feel what we feel, they will identify with the characters in our stories. They will want to read more. A reader isn’t stupid or unobservant, though. Most readers can spot contrived emotions and scenes paragraphs away. The only way to sound truly genuine is to be truly genuine, and we can only do that if we know and understand ourselves and our emotions.

Download mp3