It does seem many of the writers I know and work with have been having a very rough holiday season this year. I was planning to write about something cheerful - about gift giving, holiday wishes, or the like, but I've already heard so many stories about people having some major trauma that I thought I should address this issue. The theme of these stories is about the writer trying hard not to have a meltdown.
For example, one of my students broke up with her boyfriend of 5 years the day before their anniversary. Despite all of her efforts not to overreact (have a meltdown), she went out and slept with the wrong person. Another writer friend had to go to California to be with her mother who has Dementia, and although she avoided a disastrous liaison, she forgot to take her suitcase.
Another student had a double whammy - dealing with a breakup and a dying father. My student drank herself into a coma and made nasty remarks about her ex on one of the social networks.
What to do?
Sometimes the writer must take their real life cue from an imaginary character, and try to find hope in their journey.
For example, we can take comfort from some of our favorite holiday movies: in Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Scrooge somehow finds a way to be happier; and in It's A Wonderful Life, Jimmy Stewart makes peace with his less-than ideal life. Let's not forget the opening scene in the movie The Social Network: Mark is dumped by his girlfriend and then publicly humiliates her on his blog. I wonder if my student saw this movie?
I'm not a purveyor of the happy pill of "positive thinking," but I do feel deeply that the only cure for grief, sadness, pain and anger is to express them through creativity. By using our less positive emotions sometimes we can ignite the world of our art. Both Scrooge and George Bailey reach a complete emotional meltdown before they are able to see the possibility of change, yet their pain leads to something good.
So, as writers, when we are personally challenged, we must use your own discomfort, as a tool for growth, just like they do “in the movies.”
Here's the exercise:
Step 1: Set your timer for 3 minutes.
Step 2: With all the speed you can muster, blab about all the horrible negative stuff you're feeling right now. Please write by hand, on paper you don't care about. At the end of 3 minutes, destroy it - burn it, rip it up, throw it out.
Step 3: Stand up straight and stretch your arms way overhead, taking deep breaths and exhale all your frustration out. 3 times.
Step 4: For 5 minutes, as your Main Character, write about the problems with your holiday season -- as if they were perfect.
For example, one the students mentioned might write, "It was absolutely amazing! I was ready for the crappiest holiday of my life, in the pit of despair. But then, my mom showed up mentally sharp, pain free, in great spirits, and that was fantastic. And I had a new boyfriend to replace the old dysfunctional one. Somehow, my gifts were all appropriate, wrapped beautifully, everyone was on time and in a good mood!"
The payoff was that as she wrote down this perfect scenario, her mood changed and suddenly, she said, "I feel better," and smiled. The point of the exercise is that in real life you can't change things, but you can change your thoughts in order to feel better.
Sometimes the most important character we have to attend to is the writer. The bonus of taking care of your own needs can be new and original story material.