Writing Through Trauma Craft Talk

I’ve held this class a lot through universities, community colleges, community events, and online classes. I’m giving it to you for free to either write or teach.

Updated for UMASS Boston: William Joiner Institute for the Study of War and Social Consequences Writing Festival 6/24/17

Writing Through Hell

This is a class about writing through trauma. I’m a veteran and there are many veterans in this class, but we need to understand that you don’t need to have served in the military to have experienced trauma. Maybe you were in the military and experienced trauma that had nothing to do with combat. In fact, trauma comes in many shapes and sizes.

What traumatizes a person is a matter of perspective. You could have lived through the ambush I lived through and be completely fine. In fact, I have a few friends who did and they weren’t affected like I was.

What I mean to say is that to talk about, and even write about trauma, we need to create a safe environment and not judge each other.

Don’t think things like, what he went through was nothing compared to all the shit I went through, and inversely, don’t think things like, what I went through is nothing compared what she went through.

Introductions:

Introductions are sometimes awkward and semi-embarrassing, but they are very important in a writing workshop, especially a writing workshop that is going to take on trauma. If nothing else, it will show we’re all in this together, but it may also show someone in the room who is hesitant that the people around them are feeling the same way, having the same problems, and it’s okay to take a chance and share.

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me at a pipe rupture

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My Introduction:

  • Childhood
    • Grew up in the Cascade Mountain range in small towns named Nimrod, Vida, Blue River, McKenzie Bridge
    • It was a big logging community, but in the early 80s it became against the law to log and the entire community fell into poverty.
    • Had a difficult childhood
  • I joined the military to escape poverty. It worked, but it took a while.
    • Schofield Barracks – HI
    • Haiti – Operation Uphold Democracy
    • Fort Drum, NY
    • Bad Aibling, Germany
  • Left to go to art school
    • GI Bill gave me $600 a month for everything
  • Dropped out to be an incident responder
    • Responded to fatal car crashes
    • controlled traffic
    • Cleaned up roadkill
  • Reenlisted the day after 9/11
    • Iraq – Taji
    • New Orleans – Hurricane Katrina clean up
  • Back Home
  • PTSD
    • Fighting
    • Drinking
    • Suicide
    • Writing saved me

Class Introductions

Part I: “Did you kill any body?”

portraits

Photo from a series of combat veterans portraits.

When I came back from the war people I knew, and some I’d never met before, felt a need to ask me questions. As soon as they found out that I was a combat veteran in the infantry they needed to know: 

  • “What was it like over there?”
  • “What’s war like?”
  • And the big one: “Did you kill anyone?”

Anyone get asked any of these?

One of the top questions is, “Did you kill anyone?” The first time I was asked that, I can remember the day, where I was, and what everything looked like.

  • I was sitting in a chair in a friend’s kitchen in New City, New York.
  • Two of three bulbs were out in the kitchen so it was dark. 
  • I sat at their small table, and this kid, probably nineteen or twenty, who just walked in, who I was just introduced to, asked.
  • That was the first thing out of his mouth when he was told I was at war.
  • He needed to know. When he asked, my mind flashed through every firefight, every mortar attack, the screaming dead, the car bombs, the EIDs, and landed on the day I was critically injured. I couldn’t say anything. No words came.

Someone else in the kitchen told the kid that was not a good question to ask.

The subject was changed and a polite conversation ensued.

Even though I avoided the question at that moment, it would come back again and again. Not many others were as brazen as that kid. They wouldn’t just blurt it out bluntly, but people wanted to know. And the question came enough times, it made me think.

Their question gave me some questions.

  • Why are people asking this?
  • Why is it human nature to wonder about this?
  • Why is it so important for people who haven’t experienced killing other human beings know how it feels?

If it wasn’t killing, people wanted to know what war was like.

The people asking weren’t psychotic or anything, but they had a desire to know what it was like to live through a horrible experience. People want to know about war. It’s full of heartbreak, death, injury, and hundreds or thousands of other negative things, yet they still ask. Why?

This is the same with any trauma. We all have questions about the traumatic event.

If you read an obituary with a person who dies young, don’t you want to know how it happened?

I have a friend who lost both his legs in Iraq. He has prosthetics but it’s very noticeable that his legs are not there. He tells me, when he meets someone, anyone, everyone, it’s only a matter of time before someone asks how he’s lost them. Would you ask him? Obviously, the loss of his legs is one of the most traumatic times in his life, but people still ask. It will bring back the memories of the day he lost them, but everyone he meets asks him. Why?

kevin

I asked him the first day I met him. As it turned out, even though we didn’t know each other during the war, we were both hit the exact same day. He was on a patrol in Baghdad, and someone threw grenades at him. I was in Taji only forty miles away and I was hit about an hour later with an EID.

He likes to say that while we both served with distinction, he was a little more committed to the cause than I was.

It’s bigger than just individual curiosity. Let’s look at our culture:

Why are war dramas so popular? All’s Quiet on the Western Front, Paco’s Story, The Things They Carried, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, American Sniper, Hacksaw Ridge?

Not just war movies, all movies are about a person living through some horrible event.

Finding Nemo, The Wizard of Oz, et cetera. It wouldn’t be a good movie unless the author of the tale tortures their protagonists, right?

What is it about trauma that fascinates people?

OdRex

This isn’t new. Go back to Sophocles and Euripides. Greek theatre was more than a recreation. Back in there time, going to the amphitheater for an event, that was usually three tragedies and a comedy, was your civic duty (unless of course you were a female or a slave).

These very tragic plays were ways for people to feel a wide range of emotions without actually having the tragedy happen to them.

Sophocles wrote Oedipus Rex

  • a kingdom under a curse,
  • the people are dying,
  • the king has to find out what is the source of his kingdom’s suffering and finds it’s all his fault.
  • On top of that he finds that the ruler he killed was really his father
  • and that ruler’s wife, who he married when he became king, is his mother.
  • He gauges his own eyes out so he won’t have to look at his mother or father when he goes to the afterworld.

Who has heard this story?

That story is over 2,500 years old. Why do you think you’ve heard of it? Why is it in our culture today? 

If we didn’t feel trauma, could we feel joy?

At this point in our Writing through trauma workshop I want to read you a poem:

PART II: Let’s read a poem

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On Joy and Sorrow

from

The Prophet

by Khalil Gibran

Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.

And he answered:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

end

At this point, the last time I taught this lesson, someone had an asthma attack and an ambulance was called. Talk about trauma.

What are your thoughts on this poem?

Short Writing Exercise #1:

We all know to avoid cliche when writing. We’ve all heard to show and don’t tell. Even so, while writing about traumatic events a writer will tend to make these mistakes. During your first draft of writing on trauma, don’t sensor yourself and if you need to generalize, use cliche, or tell and not show, do that, but try to keep in mind that these are things you’ll need to edit if you chose to publish your work.

We’re doing this exercise now so you will keep this in the back of your head when we do our later writing exercise.

Use two or three of these characters, put them in a traumatic situation, and take these common mistakes and rewrite them. Use details, originality, and have fun. We’re not writing about a specific moment yet, but feel free to draw from your experiences if you feel comfortable doing so. We will spend about 15-20 minutes on this.

Now that you’ve chosen your character(s), rewrite these cliches: 

Heart beat like a drum (or out of my chest)

Scared out of my mind (out of my wits, shitless, to death, etc)

His/her brow furrowed

The stakes have never been higher

his/her heart filled with joy

he/she slammed his/her fist down

He/she wiped the tears from his/her eyes

Share writing

– Break ?-

Part III: Let’s get emotional

superman crying

Let’s go back to emotions. It’s the last thing we want to talk about as military combat veterans when we come back from war, but it’s the first thing we should talk about. We’ve concluded that humans are wired to want to feel, analyze, and understand emotion.

We need it. This ability to feel, analyze, and work through the emotions defines us as a species, and separates us from other animals.

sad puppy

Puppies can look sad, but they don’t cry…

We need problems and then we need to figure these problems out.

So when the kid in that dark kitchen in New Town, New York asked me if I ever killed anyone, it was a way for him to touch a horrible experience from a safe distance, but for me, there was no safe distance, in fact, I hadn’t processed any of what had happened to me during the war so there was not only no safe distance, there was no distance at all.

If we haven’t processed what happened to us, there is no distance between us and our trauma. When we speak or think about it, we are living it. We’re not living it again, we are still living it as it happened.

We need distance between us and our trauma. That distance comes when we analyze and process our experiences.

Writing about our trauma is a great way to create that distance, but before we get to that I want to talk about what trauma is, or at least what I’ve found it to be after 16 years of living it, writing a about it, and researching it.

There are levels of stress.

Green is when things are good and we are just living, but problems still happen. You wake up and realize there’s no coffee and you forgot to buy some while grocery shopping. A Flat tire. A small injury. 

Yellow is when we have problems in our life to solve. These are issues, but some of this type of stress is a good stress. Without stress we don’t solve problems or make progress.

  • If early man wasn’t cold, would we have tamed fire?
  • You’re sick of being broke all the time so you go to college… to be a writer… single tear falls down my cheek
  • Problem – Stress – Solution – Progress

Red is when our lives are threatened. When things get to red, the animal brain takes over and turns the human brain off.

Psychologist John Leach, a specialist in human responses to emergency situations, developed his “10/80/10 rule of survival” after examining a variety of crises and human reactions to them. According to Leach, 10 percent of people facing an emergency control their fears and act rationally. Eighty percent find themselves stunned and relatively unprepared to respond. The last 10 percent, Leach concluded, become hysterical, unable to cope with the situation at hand. (1)

As military personnel, we are trained to be in that last ten percent, but this doesn’t change how our physically reacts to trauma.

Physiological changes in your body when stressed:

  • Your brain physically changes the way your body works.
    • The sympathetic nervous system takes control of the body. As a result, three key hormones are released into the bloodstream: adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol.
    • Adrenaline and norepinephrine prepare the body for battle. You receive a high-octane energy boost from increased glucose production and release. But this increase in glucose production burns valuable resources in the body.
    • Your heart rate increases and the lungs expand to take in more oxygen (a process known as bronchial dilation).
    • Pupils dilate, narrowing your vision.
    • Blood is channeled away from the digestive system and the skin toward the major skeletal muscles for quick action and strength.
    • Cortisol is released more slowly than adrenaline and norepinephrine, and it helps sustain the fight-or-flight response over an extended period of time.
    • The digestive and immune responses are slowed in anticipation of a fight.
    • The more primitive portion of the brain, the limbic system, takes control from the more developed frontal lobe. Thoughts become less logical and more visceral.
    • This can lead to impulsive and irrational behavior. (1)
  • We have to remember that again Red Level Stress is good because it keeps us alive.

So when we’re talking about how trauma affects us we need to talk about the brain, the cerebral cortex, or neo-cortex, and the brainstem, or the hindbrain. We should also speak of the Amygdala too because that’s the part of the brain that senses danger.

PART IV

cerebralcortex

The cerebral cortex is what you’re using right now. It thinks higher thoughts, remembers things you find interesting, and lets you know if you’re in the mood for Chinese food or pizza, Jazz or Punk, Lager or IPA, et cetera. This is the part of the brain that lets us imagine, think up plans, write and appreciate music. It makes us cultured and civilized.

To be human we need to examine experiences and file away memories. We need the good stresses to learn and progress, to grow, but we found we can learn lessons by analyzing the problems of others, even if they are made up. This is why humans invented drama.

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The other part of the brain is the hindbrain or brainstem, and the brainstem is the master of our drives. Our drives to eat, procreate, and especially to survive. Our survival instinct is the most powerful drive we have. When the amygdala trips the stress level to red, that list of responses happen.

amygdala

“The sympathetic nervous system takes control of the body. As a result, three key hormones are released into the bloodstream: adrenaline, norepinephrine, and cortisol.

We already went over the physiological changes, but let’s concentrate on this on:

“Cortisol is released more slowly than adrenaline and norepinephrine, and it helps sustain the fight-or-flight response over an extended period of time.”

This all happens so you can either fight or escape, even after getting hurt. Sometimes you won’t even feel your injuries.

Anyone ever get hurt and not realize it? Have you heard of a story of a person getting shot or stabbed and they didn’t know it right away?

It had this happen to me. Five bones on the right side of my body either broken or cracked from a car bomb. I tried to get up and start shooting back at the enemy. I looked down and saw I was firing with my left hand. I found it odd until I looked at my right hand and found it just hanging there, both bones had been broke at the wrist.

The animal takes over and unplugs the human side of our brain. This is important because it’s our hippocampus that usually records and files our experiences. This is why we, many times, can’t remember a traumatic event like other experiences, or sometimes we can’t remember it at all. With the hippocampus working on something else, we record the events in a completely different way. 

Many of us cannot remember the key event in the trauma we’ve suffered.

It took a long time for me to remember the events in the ambush that nearly killed me. Even right now, I can’t remember hearing the blast of the explosion. 

The human side wants to examine, inspect, feel, and think about everything, but if they were to do that in these types of situations, that would mean certain death.

I’ll give you an example, the best one I can come up with. The very first time I was mortared in Iraq we had just gotten on base. I mean we weren’t there for more than an hour and boom, an explosion about 100 meters away. I was even looking in the direction at the time it exploded, and I still didn’t understand. My upper brain was coming up with reason for things to just explode. I remember thinking, “hmmm, they must be doing construction over there.”

Then another round came in. Even then it took the crusty old platoon sergeant yelling “incoming!” to get us running to cover before the third round landed.

The animal side reacts. The hindbrain takes over, and all the parts in the higher brain that could be of use, are reassigned, like the hippocampus and amygdala.

It is physically impossible to remember a highly traumatic event. The brain simply cannot do it. The event is recorded, but not in a manner that is comfortable or convenient.

I know, you came for a writing class and so far we’ve talked about our feelings, read a poem, and now you’re getting a lecture on the parts of the human brain.

How does it all fit together?

Like I said before, human beings file our experiences away to be examined and processed. We are wired to feel emotions. We must make sense of what happens to us. In this way we can predict whether or not certain situations will be dangerous. Remember, we agreed that the strongest instinct we have as an animal is to survive. 

Predictability means safety, safety means survival. If something is new to us, it is also unpredictable and dangerous. This is why we fear the unknown.

So even though the traumatic event wasn’t recorded by the higher brain, or neo-cortex, it is still there. And it’s more than filed away, it’s imprinted.

It’s imprinted and in there for good, but it hasn’t been examined, investigated, or processed. Both sides of the brain agree that this very traumatic and important information needs to be learned from, so it keeps reminding us that it’s there and we haven’t processed it yet. These reminders are not pleasant.

This reminders come in the way of:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Hypervigilance
  • Emotional Problems
  • Impulse control

Do we know anything, say a disorder, that have these as a symptom?

Our brain is telling us that we need to process this traumatic event because it’s gumming up the works and it can also help us with our number one mission: survival.

But we don’t want to relive it. We don’t want to analyze or process it. We lived through it once, and we don’t want to live through it again.

When that kid in the dark kitchen asked me if I’d killed anyone, there was no distance between me and my trauma. I was still living it, so when he asked that question, my brain, to an extent, started all the procedures it had gone through during the experience I associated his question with.

Who wants to feel all that trauma over again?

No one right? So we avoid it. Some don’t speak about it, others avoid anything that will remind them of it, others drink, other turn their emotions off completely and stay detached, some do drugs, fight, fornicate, whatever it takes to not live through it again.

Are there any other disorders we know that these are a symptom of?

You only need to learn fire is hot once, right? You’re not going to stick your hand in the oven again. It’s very painful. But with unprocessed trauma the brain says, no, I know it’s painful, but you need to process this for the greater good.

So, how does it all come together? Writing about your trauma is a way to process what happened. I started writing about the war, and it helped. I kept writing and things just kept coming out.

  • I started writing about what I’d seen in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
  • I started writing about when I was 21 years old in Haiti during their revolution and all the death and violence I’d seen there.
  • Then to my surprise I started writing about my childhood with my abusive alcoholic father.

Now, since I was able to write about all that trauma, am I all better? No, I had a lot of really bad things happen in my proximity. I have seen a lot of dead bodies and more than my share of people die around me. No sane person would ever get completely over the things I experienced.

But I know writing about our trauma helps. I’ve seen it help others and I don’t have as many symptoms anymore. The nightmares may come, but not as often or as severe. I haven’t had a panic attack or an emotional seizure in years, and depression comes or goes, but it’s nowhere as severe as it was. I haven’t thought about suicide since I’ve started writing.

Again, this is all my opinion and hypothesis from years of research and actually writing about my trauma. I don’t want to promise you’ll be all better or be cured after writing about your trauma, but I’ve been doing this for a while and from the people I speak to, it helps. But we all process our experiences differently.

  • Break?  –

PART V: How do we start?

Before we talk about how we start, we need to understand that people don’t usually want to write about how they feel. They don’t want to write about emotions because they may feel embarrassed and vulnerable. When I wrote The Wax Bullet War I openly wept many times. I had to write alone, at my kitchen table, after my family went to bed.

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The exercises we will do in this class is to just to get us to start writing, to get you inspired to want to write. We’re not going to attempt to tackle your trauma right now.

Also, you may not want anyone to read it out loud. That’s fine. I understand completely. I turned my trauma into a book and traveled around the country and read about all the worst moments of my life to complete strangers.

It was a very weird experience. In fact I’ll be reading at the Longfellow House Wednesday evening. Ha.

So, that said, what is the best way to start?

Writing Not Typing

I started writing about my experiences by hand. It was a slower process to be sure, but I found I had time to think about each word I put down. The movement was kind of a ritual. Afterward, in the editing phase I typed the written pages and in this way I got to look at them again and add be more descriptive, take out the cliches and add details and better descriptions.

I will say this, watch what happens to your handwriting, not at one sit down, but go back and compare your writing entries over days. I noticed very jagged almost chaotic writing during more traumatic moments. When I’m writing about calm moments the letters are larger, fuller. All this said, if you’d rather type it up, do that. Do what is most comfortable for you.

Just Get It Down

When I first started writing about my experiences during the war I found that I was still way to close. I had the inspiration and drive to finally write about it, but it was like handling a hot coal. So I started writing in third person and changed the names of the characters. I also used a lot of passive voice. That’s fine. Write it however you can, stream of consciousness, passive voice, however you can. You can go in and take out all the “to be” verbs later on. It’s so much harder to just get the words on the page than it is to edit those words.

Be Vulnerable

So many of the problems I had when I got back, came from doing all I could to be that big strong infantry squad leader still. Emotions? Those were the last things I wanted to concern myself with. No time for emotions. Children and women had emotions. I’d just come back from planning and executing combat missions with the power of life and death in the palm of my hand. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. Emotions are the first thing we should be speaking about with anyone who has experienced trauma. Trying to avoid feeling, for me, led to a very self destructive lifestyle. Drinking too much, getting in fist fights at the local pub, womanizing. If you truly want to process the trauma, you’re going to have to start feeling it again. Robert Frost said “No tears for the writer, no tears for the reader.” That said, don’t overwhelm yourself. Don’t push it too hard or you won’t want to come back. But know that this emotional exercise is like any other exercise, you are tearing down a muscle to make it stronger and you feel better after it.

Fit the Trauma into your Life’s Story.

Andre Dubus III, a short story and novel writer speaks about memory. He says, “When you look at the word remember, the opposite of remember is not to forget, it is to dismember. Remember means to put back together again.” This is what we need to do with our experiences. We need to piece our lives together to try to make some sense of what happened. If we can’t make sense of the trauma, at least we can try to see how it fits into our lives and what we’ve learned since then. After trauma, life seems out of control and again, and our brain equates the lack of control with danger. Danger goes against our survival instinct. A good way to find control, to make things make sense, is to put our trauma into a larger story.

 

PART VI: Let’s Write

Day 1 – Today

Exercise 1 

15 minutes

Write about a place. If you feel up to it, write about a place trauma happened to you. If you don’t feel up to it, that’s okay. Write about a place that something very important happened to you. Too many times, especially when writing about trauma, we focus on what happened and maybe the characters, but we forget that setting can be as important as any character.

 

  • Start without characters.
  • Was it night, was it day?
  • Did the sunlight fall on your skin or was it rain drops?
  • What time of day was it.
  • What sounds surrounded you? There had to be something. There is rarely no sound at all.
  • What smells were in the air.
  • Describe what you see around you.
  • Were you eating anything? Regions have their own types of food. How did it taste?

Anyone want to share?

Exercise 2

15 minutes

Once you have those started, insert characters. Place the ones we used before in there, or use real people. But write as an outside observer, even if you are a character in this.

  • For the instance of the traumatic event, write stream of thought.
    • Let everything out.
    • Don’t sensor yourself
    • Don’t stop to look over what you just wrote
    • Don’t worry about craft, just get it out
  • How did you react to that good or important event happening to you and what did that do to your physiology?
  • Grab onto the concrete details, especially details your reader wouldn’t expect.
  • Maybe there are some details that surprised you.
  • Now describe the other person or people there (unless you were alone then describe something else that played a role in this event being good or important).

Remember

Like we said earlier, the opposite of remember is not forget; It is dismember. So as we remember using our senses, what did we piece together?

What I’ve found is that once you can lock onto one memory, one thing that was there during a memory, it opens up room for another. Pull the thread and it is attached to more memories.

Does anyone want to share?

Analysis

In the description, did our emotion toward the place influence how we described it?

Did we see a story starting to form?

Now that you took time describing the scene, did the setting play a role in what happened or how you’re telling the story?

As a third party observer, what emotions did you use?

Were you negative about what happened?

This is important, because of course the traumatic event is painful experience in your life, but if you tell it in that way, you will lose credibility in your reader’s mind.

 

Part VII: Homework

You didn’t know this, but Writing Through Hell isn’t just a one day workshop. Here is your homework:

Day 2

Write at least 20 minutes. If you want to go longer, go longer.

As an outside observer, describe the person or persons who were around you during a traumatic experience. Don’t go into what they did, unless you feel you have to.

Describe them using your senses: the smells, the sounds, how they looked, their idiosyncrasies.

Once you’ve done that, place them in the setting you’ve described today. Let him or her look around and spend time there.

Go where the words take you, but if you are getting too close to the trauma and you feel it overcoming you, back off. Once you’re done, close your notebook, leave it alone.

No editing any of this for the first week!

Day 3

Write for at least 20 minutes.

In a different entry (do not take up where you left off) go into the backstory of the situation of the traumatic experience. Don’t describe the actual traumatic event yet. You’ve written about the setting, you’ve written about the characters, and this time you will write about the reasons and motivations the characters will be in the setting. If it’s a war, research the war. If it’s an act, find facts on other such acts. This is your opportunity to get specific about the why and where. Wrrite through another character’s point of view for a while. None of this has to be in order. We’re not trying to put this together to make a book or story. Your task is to get it on paper. Again, if it gets too much back out.

No editing for the first week

Day 4

Write for at least 20 minutes

Before we get into the traumatic event, write about how it changed your life. Write how your behavior has changed due to the event. Yes, there will be many negative consequences of trauma, but try hard to list some positive consequences. For example, during the ambush that critically wounded me, my friend Eric McKinley was killed instantly. His mother had no other children. This is horrible. But when coming back we created a relationship based off this loss and today Eric’s mother is the grandmother to my daughter, the grandmother she wouldn’t have had otherwise. Try to be balanced with the good and the bad, but be honest. Maybe the good just isn’t there yet. That’s okay. Try to imagine what good can come from the traumatic event and write about that. In this way we are trying to make sense of the traumatic experience. Yes, sometimes there is no rhyme or reason for it happening, so we need to make it make sense.

No editing for the first week

Day 5

Write for at least 20 minutes

 

Find a safe place to write where you won’t be disturbed. Find a place you can cry if you need to. Write as close as you can get to the traumatic event. Like I said, when I first wrote about the ambush that critically wounded me and killed my good friend, I had to write as though I were an observer from far away. Do that if you need to. Make yourself just another character in the event. Whatever you do, keep writing for at least 20 minutes. It will be difficult. Try not to stop, don’t edit, just keep pushing through. When you’re done, close your notebook and leave it be.

What comes next?

Now throw it all away. Or keep it and continue to work on it like I did. Turn it into a book. If you continue to work on it, you have the tools to turn it into something bigger. Next time you look at it, read it all. Stop if you need to, but try to read it all. This is your foundation. Use it and start writing your story over again. This, most likely, will be a good guideline for the climax of your story or book.

 

Remember, your story can inspire others. On Day 4 when we try to list the good that can come out of your tragedy, this is it. If you can help just one other person, than what you suffered can make more sense. If you help one, maybe you can help a dozen, a hundred. Maybe a few of them can go on to help others. If that happens, you can make sense of the trauma. Making sense of it means putting it into your story, putting it into your story means processing it. When your brain can process it, maybe it’ll stop trying to remind you about it in the form of symptoms. I’m still making sense of my own story, and now you are a part of it. I’m not some enlightened person who is all better now, but this works for me. I hope it works for you too.

 

Sean Davis