Editor’s Notebook: Mad and getting madder. On writing Wrath.
I’m very sorry to say that I can’t remember the last time I lived three days in a row without being angry. And usually not just angry. Furious. I bring it on myself, and I’m going to have to keep it up because my work depends on it.
The book I’m writing was birthed in righteous anger. Writing the rage allows me to make meaning from it, maybe even art. But to tell the truth about all that anger, I’ve had to study it. Even wallow in it. And I wonder, as I push on, how much Wrath can writing—good writing—contain? Given all this focus on my own fury, I knew I’d read my co-editor Suzanne’s meditation on Wrath, the penultimate essay in our reprised series, 7 Sins of the Writing Life, in a wholly new way.
When my fiction is inspired by anger, as soon as the story takes hold of me and demands to be written, I rise up and away. The fire can no longer hurt because I experience it as empathy for the character I’ve created. When I worked with Suzanne on this essay ten years ago, that’s how I understood and experienced Wrath in relation to my writing and writing life. But my current work; this outrageous business of writing about my own life… well.
I do not rise. The fire hurts.
“[A]s I think about how Wrath acts—a blind, chaotic, and unstoppable force—it alarms me,” says Suzanne, “that should it go unchecked in our writing lives, it could destroy much more than just our writing.” That alarms me, too. “If we let it, Wrath can steal energy from writing, break professional connections, and destroy nurturing personal relationships in the writing community.” Yes, it can! Shall I tell you how I know that? Another time, perhaps.
But: “Productively using Wrath is like burning the underbrush to prevent a forest fire.”
While my work turns me into a rage-archaeologist, digging around in the dirt of my childhood for the evidence that my Wrath started there (it did, yes), I ask myself how to tame the energy of all that anger, how to avoid stoking it for the sake of the page, how to ensure I keep telling the truth even as I burn. So far, the best answer? Learn from the writers willing to show the way.
Are you writing Wrath? Do you avoid writing Wrath? Take a look at what Suzanne and the writers she consulted have to say about this all-consuming writing-life Sin.
And just for fun, here are my two favorite songs about anger. I took breaks to listen to both as I wrote this post:
Next month, when we publish our final issue of the season, we will complete our essay series with Pride.
May you indulge and enjoy all writing sins forevermore. And may you write well today.