Monday, March 12, 2012

Where the Wild Things Are: A Writer’s Journey through Self & Back Again

There’s a funny thing that happens when you commit to being a novelist.

And by funny I mean an in your face confrontation where once you bump into some of the deep-rooted (at times gnarly) emotions driving your work, you must decide whether to run like mad or body check the beasts.

I’ve learned to write directly into the heart of my fears. When I do this I’m able to connect with my readers on a deeper level, trusting they’ve experienced similar trepidations.

This brings me to the woods.

What lurks amidst the pine needles and towering trees, those shadows of doubt and memory of pain, that’s where I allow myself to wander when I write. I escort my characters through these forests. There are times I hold their hands and times I let go and hide, watching how they’ll react to the owl’s hoot, the wolf’s howl, and the swishing of leaves that sends electric shocks of terror up their spines.

I remain in the woods with my characters at all times. Feeling. Entering their world—enmeshing with their emotions. Here’s a glimpse of what some of my forest treks have resembled…

Fangorn Forest from Lord of the Rings
Like the hobbits, aware Fangorn Forest is the only way to where they need to go, I tremble. I know what’s in there. Orcs. Sharp-eared, sneering, relentless in their pursuit,    hungry to devour me orcs. And worse, other nameless, indescribable things that might very well be the end of me. Raking me through past hurts and future worries.

And yet I take the first step in, leading my characters onward as the trees groan. Yes, we come across a bloodthirsty orc, but because we persist, we don’t give up, we also happen upon a forest filled with some other rather unexpected kindly characters that end up lifting us to higher ground.

Rotten apples from The Wizard of Oz
Dorothy and her friends clutch tighter as the road darkens. The rows of trees serve as bookends around the motley crew determined to walk the yellow brick road. But the trees are feisty. Feisty apple-throwing trees. And the felt presence of the witch’s nearness fills them with dread.

Criticism, judgment, names I’ve been called. Might as well call them Macoun, Red delicious, and Braeburn as I roam these woods. Like apples chucked at my head these are visceral reminders of how often I’ve failed. Insecurities and even pride rotting my insides far quicker than any of these apples could.
So what I do when I come across these apples as I write? I pick ‘em up and bite. I bite back. I throw back. I duck. I don’t let the apples get to my head.

Confusing Characters from Alice in Wonderland
The Cheshire Cat, Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, the smoke-ring blowin’ Caterpillar. I think we can all agree Alice came across her share of enigmatic characters on her forest hike.

I’ve so been there. Real life truly can be stranger than fiction sometimes. People can be rude without warning in the woods I wander through. Deceptive. Just plain perplexing, leaving me to question next steps.
After stumbling across this lot, it’s often I’ll offer a kind word, grab my character’s hand, and take the nearest exit. Remembering. Always remembering and learning how it felt to be scared and treated in such a way. Remembering to not pass it on.

Max from Where the Wild Things Are
There are enough atrocities in this world to cause the whole earth to implode with anger. Max understood this. He got anger.

And then he got to escape it all.

He ventured to where the wild things are and instead of cowering, he “stared into all their yellow eyes without blinking once” and found his safe playground. Crowned ruler, Max conquered his fears. Until loneliness set in and he understood all-day rumpuses with the wild things aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

He went to the woods.

And then he came home.

There are few more allegorical descriptions of what I feel I try to do as a writer than the one of Max and his forest excursion. I bring my reader into the woods with me and my characters. It’s safe (even though tension and conflict are ripe). We rumpus. But then I find a way to bring my readers home.

To take what I’ve written with them, as I am challenged to do the same.

And to believe the power of imagination has the far-reaching influence to change anything.

Do you write into the heart of your fears? Which forest description resonates with you most?

*photo by stock.XCHNG
**Last (at least for a few months) All “I”s on __________ on my FB writer page


  1. Wow, great post, Wendy.

    I'd like to think I write into the heart of my fears, but reading this post, I'm convinced I could go deeper.

    Fangorn Forest resonates with me (and my characters) the most. I know I need to go there, but it's scary. I just don't want to, and neither do my characters! But that's where the good stories are. That's where we grow. ;)

  2. This reminds me of the quote:

    "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

    Henry David Thoreau

  3. Very interesting post, Wendy. I don't think I'm scared to get to the gut of my emotions when I set out. It's while I'm there that I can get confused and question. So maybe that's the Alice one...things are not as they first appeared, and I'm not sure what to do with that.

  4. What a creative post, Wendy. You. Are. So. Clever!

    I watched Lord of the Rings for the first time just this month, so I'm choosing Fangorn Forest. With my fantasy-loving hubby as my guide and translator, I watched with thundering heart as Frodo and his friends faced one foe after another, joining forces and finally achieving their goal.

    The writing journey can feel like that at times. Doubts, insecurities, and fears assail me relentlessly, threatening to cripple my creativity. I do my best to fight back, but my efforts seem futile at times. That's when treasured friends lift me up, offering badly needed and much appreciated support and encouragement.

  5. This was so clever and thought out! Love!

    I think all good writers tap into personal fears when writing. It's what makes the characters believable and readers identify with them. :)

    Great great post!!!!!

  6. Loved this post.

    I do sometimes write into the heart of my fears. It's a scary place to go, but there's always a path that leads out.

  7. Ooh, good one!!
    We writers are an insecure bunch, so I think we all write thru our fears at one time or another, otherwise nothing would get written--for me, anyway. :)
    The rotten apples description resonates with me. I see apples and have them thrown at me all the time, but I don't let them get in my head.

  8. Dude, can I just soak in these words? They are soak-worthy, that is for sure.

    Also...I totally want you to give me a rundown on the meaning behind Where the Wild Things Are. I read that book almost every night to my son before bed and like The Giving Tree, I'm not quite sure I know what it means and what everyone represents. Tell me, Wendy, tell me!

  9. I love this. Such a Wendy post. And you know what I was thinking? In many ways, the process we go through as writers is similar to what God has promised us...He'll "walk through the valley of the shadow of death" with us. There's no greater comfort than that.

  10. There are times when your posts just make me go, "whoa." This is one of those times. :)

    I can write to my own fears, but I often find it difficult--like when I posted last week that I don't want to write about losing a spouse and rebounding in love quickly. Just imagining that is painful.

  11. I've never thought about it in these terms, although I have thought about the fears I face with writing and all. Not sure which forest I'd find myself in, but this is interesting to think about. :)

  12. Sometimes I write into the heart of my fears.
    Sometimes I stand up in front of a group of women (it's usually a group of all women) and speak into the heart of my fears.
    And sometimes, sometimes I pray into the heart of my fears.

  13. Heidi, So true about the woods being the prime place to grow. And we all can go deeper.

    Lindsay, I've had novels where I've reflected on certain issues I tackled in them and then slapped my forehead suddenly with a "oh, that was what that was all about" experience.

    Keli, Fight back. I get that. And thanks for the encouragement! I had fun writing this post and I'm a sucker for the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    Jessica, I believe half the time (if not more) I'm working stuff out subconsciously in my work. It's free therapy. ;)

    Loree, Great point. There's always a way out.

    Jennifer, Yeah those red delicious ones can be brutal b/c often they come at us seemingly so sweet.

    Katie, Marinate away. ;) My take on that story is how the imaginary trek to the woods became a safe place for Max to work out his anger and assortment of other feelings. Not sure I'm just making stuff up b/c it sounds right, but I think that's what memorable writing does--it leaves an impression and gives us theories to go by. Theories that work for us.

    Sarah, The older I get the more I embrace that God does not promise the easy path for us, the one where we'll be free of bruises and scrapes, but as you wrote, he'll be with us no matter how dark and dangerous our wooded walks get.

    Jennifer, I was laughing at what kind of whoa you were expressing. A whoa this lady sure thinks too much or a whoa something nicer. :D See, here I am giving a perfect example of some of the stuff I mentioned in this very post. Ah, such is the life of a writer.

    Karen, Glad you found it interesting. I always am intrigued to go through the process of connecting examples for posts like this.

    Beth, Love each and every one.

    Thanks for swinging by. I can tell folks are still visiting frequently. Thankful for that as well. Not sure if word verification is throwing you off (haven't found a way to cancel that) or if a good lot (who says that?) of you were feeling on the quiet side, but I hope you know how much I love your comments!

    I'm working magic with my kitchen counters. They call.
    ~ Wendy

  14. Wendy:
    This makes me think. I like posts that do that to me.

  15. Doesn't the best writing, both to read and to write, happen when the author's emotion is so tied in to the words?

    re: Word Verification, Maybe I can help ...

    Log into Blogger.
    Hit Wheel on top right of page
    (Blogger Options)

    Select Old Blogger Interface.

    Go to Settings --> Comments --> Show Word Verification?

    Click No.

    Return to Updated Blogger Interface on top of page.

    Tadaa - Captcha is gone :)

    Good luck.

  16. QS, So glad I could do that for you.

    Joanne, So glad you could do that for me. By golly, I do believe I fixed it THANKS TO YOU. Now we'll see if that had anything to do with my comments being messed with.

    I appreciate the step by step directions! :D

    ~ Wendy

  17. I definitely dive into my fear and swim around with my characters. So often they are big part of me, so I feel it is only fair to swim around the murky waters with them. Feel the fear of the moment so that others might too. Often times this is in the suspense part of my novel. My over active imagination can really draw out worst case scenarios and make me sweat it out with the characters I continue to torture. But then other times its something heartbreaking and emotional. And the fears and hurts of my own life bubble up and out onto the page. Quite cathartic and I fear, quite telling of my deepest fears.

    Thanks for the insightful and eloquent post, Wendy. I expect nothing less from you :)

  18. What a great way to write! Perhaps asking ourselves how we'd react in situations would help us get them down on paper.


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