Writing catharsis

I got derailed this weekend.

When a friend asked me to be a beta reader for some chapters he wrote, and I said yes, I didn’t know it was going to derail me from my own writing.

Except, it didn’t really.

Allow me to explain.

The request to read the chapters wasn’t to complete a grammatical analysis, but rather, to establish whether the chapters evoked an emotional response in me.

It was only a couple of chapters. It didn’t take long to get through the actual reading part.


Reading those chapters resulted in an immediate unleashing of a deeply buried autobiographical story within me. And that’s when my derailment began.

So yes, the chapters evoked an emotional response.

This is a good thing. A story should make readers feel things; if it doesn’t, then it failed at hooking the reader.

We write to be read.

We want our words to connect with others, to solicit emotional responses, to find others who can relate, maybe commiserate, to events and circumstances we experience.

That’s what his chapters did to me. I ended up on my own path down memory lane…


Instead of picking up my own WIP, and finish getting it ready for self-publishing, I read my friend’s chapters and then…I went searching for something I wrote years (months?) ago myself.

The story I wrote back then was about an unpleasant event that happened to me when I was a young adult. At the time, I chose the third person narrative to tell my story. I figured, by choosing to write ‘about her‘ rather than ‘about me‘ I allowed for a degree of separation.

Why do I continually do this?

It’s a rather conniving way to hide behind the truth.

Do you understand what I mean? When I take a personal experience and wrap it up in fiction, I can write about my protagonist as her. Her may be me, but you (the reader) doesn’t know that. You (the reader) either identify, and like, my protagonist, or not. The relationship of the protagonist (her) to the writer (me) does not need to be spelled out.

In fiction, you want the reader to relate to the protagonist, and the characters, and the plot, and the story line, and all the rest of it. You want the reader to like the story.

How is this different in autobiographical writing?

Well, it’s trickier.

When you write about “I” or “me”, you are opening yourself up, displaying yourself to your readers, allowing, even inviting them to analyze you, criticize you, judge you. It makes you vulnerable, and uncomfortable.

For some people, that’s enough to stop writing (or never begin).

But it’s exactly that vulnerability, that discomfort, that also brings out the kindhearted, compassionate people into your peripherals. I have *met* many such people online, through this blog especially, who have become a part of my circle of friends for this very reason. Their feedback encourages me to shed my third person narrative persona, look inward, and face my demons. And begin writing in the first person narrative.

If you write an essay, you are talking about you.

If you write a memoir, you write about you.

When you write about you, you should say so. Admit it to yourself. (And by you and yourself, I mean me and myself.) Ha.

I am slowly learning that this is how I will find, and experience, catharsis with writing.


14 thoughts on “Writing catharsis

  1. Interesting that we both wrote about similar topics…forging emotional connections with readers through writing.

    The manuscript I mentioned in my post featured a protagonist who worked for a pressure washer manufacturer, was trapped in a loveless marriage, lusted after a coworker, dreamed of being a writer, and really wanted a Mini Cooper. At the time, I worked for a pressure washer manufacturer, was trapped in a loveless marriage, lusted after a coworker, dreamed of being a writer, and really wanted a Mini Cooper. Yet it was all third-person, because—as you mentioned—it’s easier that way. You’ve got plausible deniability.

    I recently read a memoir called “In the Dream House” (Carmen Maria Machado) that alternated between 1st- and 2nd-person narrative. It was crazy original and painful at times to read, but also, brilliant. I liked that as a literary device.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh thank you for mentioning this! We seem to be a lot alike in many aspects! 🙂

      I will have a look at the Dream House. I’m thinking, why do I research about all the rules all the time when I have a truly original WIP that may not appeal to the masses, but then, that’s exactly the point? The masses environment is saturated with too much of the same sort of thing anyway. I don’t want to add another thing to their slush pile that is ‘same’ instead of ‘unique’. Know what I’m mean?

      Thank you for this comment.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have never written a memoir, but even in my crime fiction stories (very detached from my own life, in terms of plot :-)) there are parts of me that come from emotional wounds or, sometimes, happy wells. I believe that all writing in cathartic. I just read your chapter 13 and would love to read more about what happened to the little girl and the test she was having!


    1. Yes, that little girl is me. And some people had actually told me I should write that entire thing in the first person.

      It’s funny, fiction can be so similar to your own life. Like you say, you could write the most criminal piece and yet have never yourself as much as stolen a pencil.

      Stephen King, whose fiction books I have never read, mentioned that his most vile and disturbing plot was born out of alcoholism. Food for thought, isn’t it.


  3. And, by the same token, if you are writing fiction, but you seek to reach the emotional core, you can write fiction in the first person to get that visceral connection. It’s a question of how you want to reveal character and impact–subtly, as a unpeeling discovery, or with a wallop.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, true. I have actually taken some of my stories and written the same chapters in both first and third person narratives. Just to see which one appealed to me better.

      In those instances, I go by what it feels like, a gut instinct, of sorts.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think sometimes you have to first get it on paper as an outsider. My friend is going through a bit of a crisis right now. I suggested she write her story in third person, to get it out on paper. Her obsessing over past mistakes doesn’t help

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Despite having written all about the first person narrative, I still like writing in the third person. Like my piece Stalemate and the subsequent stories. I like writing from that perspective.

      Your friend received good advice. I am giving two of my friends similar advice, as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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