Recently my friend and I were talking about how heavy it can be to write sad stories. She’s writing a story about terminal illness, and I’m writing a story in which a woman’s life came to a tragic, yet preventable, end. I guess I’m used to “writing sadness” since my memoir was largely about death and grief. I’m not sure I could write any other way! But if I dwell on it too long, the writing process for these stories can become troublesome. So I’ve developed some ways to help me write sadness.
1. Inject levity into the story itself. This is easier to do in fiction than nonfiction. In nonfiction, the story simply may be inherently sad. But still, in nonfiction, a sad story should have some bright spots. When did the person feel his or her best? When did things seem to be going well for him/her? When did he/she feel hope? Extend that out.
2. Find the silliest, funniest movie or TV show you can. While you’re writing, this is a good time to find a series you can watch over an extended period of time at the end of each day. My go-to is The Golden Girls. Other good options: Cheers, Seinfeld, Frasier, Curb Your Enthusiasm.
3. Cut yourself some slack. This won’t be the time to saddle yourself with endless worry or stress. Try to create a forgiving schedule for yourself. If you like to treat yourself with retail therapy, go ahead and try not to worry too much about the cost. I mean, don’t go broke or max out your credit, but if you are a spendthrift give yourself some wiggle room if it makes yourself feel better. Find the little things that make you happy. If a $3 coffee brightens your day, then buy it and ignore the collective wisdom that says you could be a millionaire by age 60 if you invested that money instead :) They’re nothing but a bunch of killjoys, lol!
4. Exercise. My personal cure for all things. If I write all day, by the end of the day I can just feel the thoughts and emotions piling up and cluttering my entire body. I literally feel restless and my mind is foggy. So I go for a run, or a bike ride, or yoga, and magically I come back to the house with more clarity and a brand-new attitude.
What are your tips for writing sadness? Or if you read sad stories, what does the writer do to help you get past the heaviness?