The Emotional Splinter

I’m sorry I haven't been as responsive as I normally am replying to comments or reading other blogs (who's that chuckling?), but I've been at the Ozark Writers Conference in Eureka Springs for the past few days. This was the second year in a row that I've attended the Ozarks conference and the agenda continues to surpass my expectations. David Morrell (FIRST BLOOD, BLOOD OATH, THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE, THE FRATERNITY OF THE STONE, DESPERATE MEASURES, THE SHIMMER, etc.) was one of the keynote speakers, as was Agent Gordon Warnock from Andrea Hurst & Associates Literary Management. While I was spending my day at the conference, my wife was off visiting most of the thrift shops and taking in the beauty of this quaint little town nestled amongst the Ozark Mountains. She talked me into staying at one of the numerous bed & breakfasts the city is known for, so it was win-win for both of us.

Although I enjoyed all of the sessions, I particularly fancied listening to David Morrell. He spoke on many topics, but he put forth one particular theory that I thought I'd share here, and I'm really interested in hearing all of your opinions about it. He was going along, describing his background and how he overcame a lot of obstacles to get where he is today, when he uttered something that caught us completely off-guard. "Everyone here is damaged goods,” he said. The comment hung in the air for a few moments, allowing a slightly uncomfortable hush to fill the room, and then he continued. “That is why we are writers. We all have something in our past trying to come out in the form of a story." He went on to say that writers spend a great deal of time trying to find that perfect emotional voice to relate the tale they need to tell, as a way of coming to grips with their issues. Some authors, like himself for example, had such deep-seated problems that they turned up as common themes in most of his work.

Although I don't agree 100% with Mr. Morrell's theory, as bold as it sounds I still find a great deal of merit in his thinking. I liken it to the way our bodies will expel a foreign substance, such as the way a splinter will work itself out of the skin if left untouched. An emotional splinter, if you will. In Mr. Morrell's case, that splinter was a neglectful mother and an abusive step-father that manifested itself in his stories where the main character is in conflict with a father-figure type.

Mr. Morrell went on to posture that attempts to utilize an emotional voice that don't resolve the writer’s issues might have near-term positive results, but will ultimately prove unsatisfying. Authors shouldn’t be afraid of confronting these issues, whatever they might be, instead tap into them and mine them for all their worth.

His talk did get the gears churning in my head. If I were to give any weight to his premise at all, then shouldn't I have an emotional splinter? And if so, what might that be? The more I mulled it over, the more I became convinced that a key concept of both of my novels indeed gestated from some impactful events from my early twenties. But then I wondered if instead of being some murky psychological mumbo-jumbo, that the key concept was just a case of me drawing inspiration from personal experience (write what you know). Back and forth I went, until I finally left it somewhere in-between. A real chicken or egg type of question.

How about you? What's your opinion? Do we all have an emotional splinter we're trying to deal with in our writing?

17 comments

  1. Super interesting post, DL. Thanks for sharing that part of the keynote's speech! I don't know that I necessarily agree 100% with his thoughts and theory~ I'll have to take a look at my projects and see if there's some theme that stems from my past...hmmm. Good food for thought here.

    PS~ my parents have been to Eureka Springs and really enjoyed it~ what a fun spot for a conference!

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  2. I think most writer/artist types have some kind of emotional splinter but often times don't know it. I know I have several, that are working their way out in my writing. But that's my own baggage.

    I also think the emotional splinter is nothing more than passion. You can't write if you don't have it, I mean, how could we put up with the endless rewrites, and rejections, highs and lows of the literary world if we didn't feel passionate about it.

    I liken it to surfing. (Which I know nothing about.) However, I do know that surfers will go to extreme lengths to catch that perfect wave, to be able to ride its crest or in its curl for those few seconds. It's the rush for them. It's the passion.

    We as writers, long to hear our betas and critters say, "This was a fantastic chapter" or get an agent to request a partial or full.

    It's the passion that keeps us going, not necessarily the splinter, although baring souls in public has the same cleansing affect as the ocean.

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  3. I'd have to say that I DO 100% agree with the speaker. I know that that's EXACTLY what I do in my writing. I kind of discovered it a few years ago and have now embraced it.

    But I can also see how his theory might not be true for other people.

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  4. I agree with Morrell and I have read most of his books. He's an amazing writer. The best stories come from our trauma. I think if they don't, they are not going to be great books. We have to, in some way, feel the struggle our characters go through in order to fully relay that struggle to our readers. All I can say, please let me be damaged goods!

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  5. Now that you've posed this question, I'll be wondering all day what my emotional splinters are and if I've used them to my advantage. I enjoyed reading this post!

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  6. I would like to disagree with his premise, I really would, but I can not.

    After reading his statement and what you considered, they are, in truth, one and the same.

    There is a story in emptiness. There is a story in chaos. It is our experiences which draw something from us or give something to us, many times leaving us bent, dent, broken or hefting a bit more of something than we thought we could handle.

    Think of it this way, strong, exercised muscles are damaged tissue. That firm, solid build you see in a person comes from pushing that tissue (muscle) to its breaking point where it then repairs and heals, becoming leaner, stronger and tougher.

    That is why we writers, even the perkiest of us with little more than a scratch to show for all our efforts, are damaged goods.

    So as much as I would like to respectfully disagree, my quick perusal of my WiPs prove his theory correct. It'll probably be the case with most (would say all but there are always exceptions). Many of us draw on something. Even the 40 year old virgin who writes erotic novels draws upon his/her fantasies of sexual pleasure, probably something built up to a boiling point since, you know, still a virgin and all.

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  7. Intriguing. It makes sense that what hurts us or bothers us would be something we'd let loose in our words. I do know that I'd like to be more like most of MCs :)

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  8. so sorry I didn't get to see your wife! It was an excellent conference, even better than last year!

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  9. Glad you and your wife had such a great time! Very interesting post, DL.

    There is a lot of me in my current novel and many of my characters do the things I wish I could do.

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  10. Possibly. I've thought this before many times. Like am I just telling the same story over and over in different ways? I think that's a related concept. Good stuff, DL! Jealous of the cool conference~ <3

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  11. That makes sense. I can see a little in my first book. No idea what I was dealing with in my second one though!

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  12. huh. I mean, i think it reads true for a lot of people. I'm not sure i do, i live a pretty happy life, haven't really lost anyone or had anything bad happen to me. The themes that i express in my writing tend to be things i like to read about.

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  13. A thought-provoking post, DL. And I agree with Morrell. Such "splinters" drive my writing, which at this point in my long life is memoir or autobiographical stories.

    BTW, I lived in the Ozarks, Ft. Leonard Wood, for fourth months in 1962 with my new husband (now dead). It was the Berlin Wall Crisis. His national guard unit was called up. I loved the Ozarks, the green everywhere (I had come from the western desert), and the flowering dogwoods (I had never seen one of these).

    I would have loved to go to the Ozark Writers Conference, but am glad you and your wife got to. If you hadn't been there, you wouldn't have had this post to share!! It's a win-win for all of us.
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

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  14. Huh. I'm not really sure I agree with it. But maybe that's just cuz I don't like to think of myself as damaged goods :) I know how that is for some writers (the need to bleed onto the page), but I think I tend to write more for fun. Maybe I'm disillusioned ...

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  15. Interesting theory re damaged goods. Need to mull that over for a bit. I don't know if I'm damaged, but my past has definitely influenced who I am...so maybe.

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  16. I agree 100%. I know my experiences (especially the painful ones) play a huge part in my writing. They're part of who I am, so of course they're going to come through on the page.

    Actually, I think everyone has been damaged in some way. It's how we learn and grow, for better or worse. Everyone has a story to tell. We, as writers, just find more creative ways to tell that story. ;)

    Great post!

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  17. I agree DL. I never thought about it in exactly the same way though. I was shocked to discover the characters in my first novel were dealing with issues I didn't realize I was struggling with myself.

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