I’m pleased to welcome award-winning author Chynna Laird to A Slice of Life Writing today. Chynna’s newest book is a heart-wrenching memoir about growing up with a bipolar mother who refused to accept or receive treatment for her illness. Her goal in writing this book is to bring awareness to the importance of being diagnosed and receiving treatment for mental illness. Welcome, Chynna!
Practice Being an Emotionally Charged Writer
Several people have told me that I’m an emotionally charged writer. I’m guessing what that means is that I have the power to elicit strong emotions in my readers through my words. That’s a huge compliment for me because I know there are many writers out there who struggle to inject those emotions into their work.
It doesn’t mean that they don’t feel things as deeply as I can but more they simply may not know how to show those feelings in their story. Because it is a matter of showing such things, not telling. As readers, we don’t want a whole bunch of narrative describing how someone feels, we want to see it. And it’s not as easy as you’d think to do that.
Earlier in my life, I had a lot of trouble with expressing my feelings. With all that I’d gone through as a child, I slowly built up a protective wall around me. It got bigger and stronger as I got older. Through journaling and writing I found a healthy and safe way of purging those feelings and my wall slowly disintegrated. I guess you could say that writing is something that, literally, saved my life.
I don’t think I could have written White Elephants unless I was in a healthy place emotionally. The first draft of the book was an ugly, emotional purge. I didn’t get the chance to talk to my mother before she died about what had happened to me as a child so I was left with a lifelong residue of anger, resentment and other negative emotions. So the first draft was written from this ugly place and wouldn’t have told the story in the best way.
Once I healed emotionally I was able to see the situation from a healthier place and, therefore, tell the story with the appropriate emotional responses. And I’m hoping that’s what my readers will sense too. Today’s writing challenge is inspired from this journey.
I couldn’t go to my mother’s funeral. I know how awful that must sound but I just wasn’t ready to face the people, what the minister would say or other parts of it. Plus I was experiencing a high-risk pregnant with my son and couldn’t travel. My brother was teaching English in Korea at that time and also couldn’t make it. Family members and the church recorded the service for us.
My brother and I were both asked if we had words we wanted share at the service in our absence. We both wrote letters and here’s the one I sent:
I’m sorry I can’t physically be here—I know you understand why. There are many things I can say to you but I really wanted to share what I’m most grateful to you for.
I think what I value most was your appreciation and talent for art and music. All four of your kids have varying degrees of your talents: artwork, singing, playing instruments and writing. I remember being frustrated and angry at having to get up early to practice piano or going choir practices, but they are some of my fondest memories and greatest treasures. I don’t just “hear” music, I feel it and it touches my soul. I don’t just sing a song, I put passion into the music and words so, perhaps, it can touch others the same way. And I don’t just “jot words down on paper”, I write in such a way that my readers relate my words to their own experiences.
You gave these gifts to me, Mom, and for that, I am eternally grateful to you. Your talent for and appreciation of the arts and music will live on in us kids. And you have to know, it’s also been passed onto your granddaughters. When I see them move and wiggle to music, when they sing to songs with so much happiness and when they draw pictures far beyond what they should be able to, I think of you.
Thank you: for deciding to give me life, for loving me even though love was difficult for you and for trying to the best of your ability. I hope you’ve finally found peace where you are.
This was one of the most important and heart-wrenching letters I’ve ever written. It took me almost a week to come up with the right words because, believe me, there were many things I wanted to say. In the end I decided focusing on what was good about my mom was the most appropriate thing. One of my uncles told me there wasn’t a dry eye in the church after the minister finished reading it.
Now it’s your turn. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to write a letter to someone saying something you’ve never gotten to say. It can be to someone who has passed on that you weren’t able to say goodbye to, someone you haven’t seen for awhile, your children or even yourself. Letters are a lot like journaling in that you say things in them you might not have the courage or strength to say out loud. I have a lot of letters that I’ve never sent. It just felt good to get the words and feelings out.
So, there you go. I look forward to seeing your letters and seeing the emotionally charged writer inside of you. I know it’s there. You just need to be brave enough to draw it out.
CHYNNA LAIRD is a psychology major, freelance writer and multi award-winning author living in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner, Steve, and their three daughters [Jaimie (almost nine), Jordhan (six), and baby Sophie (three)] and baby boy, Xander (five). Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs.
You’ll find her work in many online and in-print parenting, inspirational, Christian and writing publications inCanada,United States,Australia, andBritain. In addition, she’s authored an award-winning children’s book (I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD), two memoirs (the multi award-winning, Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With SPD and White Elephants), a Young Adult novel (Blackbird Flies), an adult Suspense/Thriller (Out Of Sync to be released March 2012), and a Young Adult Suspense/Mystery/Paranormal/Sweet Romance (Undertow, to be released 2012). She’s also working on a sequel to Not Just Spirited called Not Just Spirited: The Journey Continues and a few other projects in the works for Middle Grade and Young Adult readers.