A few years ago I was going through a box filled with cards from my childhood when I stumbled upon a few letters that I had written to friends when I was 9-years-old and never sent. The letters broke my heart and made something click for me as a writer.
But first, let me paint a picture of my 9-year-old self: I had just moved from my beautiful and beloved hometown in Central Wisconsin to the “big” city of Minneapolis. I left behind a house that I absolutely loved with a huge yard, surrounded by a woods, where my imagination ran wild. I left behind a school that I didn’t always enjoy being at, but felt comfortable in. I left behind friends that I loved.
I was scared to move from my quiet, little town to a city. And I was angry. I was so, incredibly angry that I had to leave behind everything that I knew and loved to go to this new place.
So I let everyone know. I refused to get out of the car when my parents took me to school. When my parents forced me out–I think even the principal came out to get me a few times–I kicked and screamed walking into the building. I wasn’t going to go to school. I wasn’t going to eat. I was going to make everyone’s life miserable until they sent me back.
That’s honestly what I thought: I am going back home with or without my family so I will make everyone miserable until they ship me home. After all, I had friends that were totally willing to take me in. I don’t know if their parents were, but details… How important are they anyway? 😉
Somehow, being the screamer didn’t follow me through the rest of my school years. (Most of my classmates didn’t even know it was me unless I mentioned it!) And it became a time in my life that I was so embarrassed by. I didn’t want to talk about it; I didn’t want people to know about it.
Yes, that behavior was inappropriate and embarrassing, but 1) I worked through it, and 2) I was scared and angry. While my reaction was not okay, the emotions behind it were valid and legitimate and luckily I had people in my life who helped me work through them.
What surprised me about the letters is that I told my friends I didn’t think anyone heard me when I expressed how I felt. (I can hear my parents groaning right now.) Based on the date on the letters, I think they were written before the epic meltdowns of 4th grade. I didn’t think I was being heard, so I made myself heard.
And that’s what clicked for me as a writer. So often I try to tone down the reactions of my characters because I don’t want them to overreact. But that’s what kids do sometimes! They overreact. (Heck, adults overreact sometimes.) When life changes and they’re scared, angry or [insert emotion here] they overreact as they work through and process those emotions. So why try to tone down their reactions? When I write those emotions I need to write them big, loud and embarrassing and if it actually becomes too much, I can tone it down later.
How often do we tone down the things we work on because we’re afraid it’ll be “too much?” What is it that you might be toning down? Are you, like me, working on a novel and afraid that your characters reaction is too much? Is there a song or a painting that isn’t quite as loud as it could be? Is there a blog post you’re afraid to write–or afraid to include all the details?
For me, it includes a daily reminder when writing: tell the world (or those who read my blog) that I kicked and screamed for months in 4th grade. Let my character’s reactions be as loud and embarrassing as possible.
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I love finding reminders of my childhood. I recently found my old calligraphy kit and some things I had written with it. I like the lesson you mention- to write it big because you can always tone it down. My takeaway from this is to not play it safe. You can always adjust later if needed.
That’s so cool! It must have been fun to see what you did with that kit. 🙂 I’m glad you were able to get something out of this too… thanks for sharing your takeaway!
I felt the exact same way when I had to move in the middle of 8th grade and hated it. It took awhile but once I made friends and got used to my new area, it wasn’t so bad. However at the time I had a complete melt down.
It’s so hard to move away from everyone and everything you know and love. 🙂
No need to tone it down! The emotions are the parts people relate to!
Exactly! I’m always afraid my characters will come off as “annoying” but I don’t think it’s a bad thing if they have annoying moments. I mean, I love it when characters have annoying moments in books, because it makes them more real. Like you said, the emotions are what people relate to so why tone them down?
I love this. We all went through similar phases in life, and I believe we do them because deep down we all have the same fears–that if we’re not loud enough, no one is listening.
I’ve kind of gone the opposite way over the past few years. I become incredibly self-reflective when things aren’t particularly moving in the way I would like. Yesterday’s election is the perfect example. I’ve shut down. I’m staying off of social media. Because I feel all of the anger and vitriol and it does something to my core… and so, this morning I woke up and listened to Ravi Shankar and meditated and am trying to stay positive about the future. Though sometimes I really do feel that urge to kick and scream and claw and chew. I’m just not sure where it would bring me.
Sending much love, and keep writing–I always love to see what you’re coming up with here. And I imagine that getting that glimpse into a “younger you” was incredibly satisfying and eye-opening. I’d love to take a look at some letters childhood Charlotte wrote, too 🙂 XOXO
That’s so true! That’s probably something we deal with all our lives and we react to things in different ways based off of that.
I’d say I respond the same way now. I’ve noticed that when I’m upset I tend to retreat into myself so that I can think about it and process it. Sometimes I’ll find someone who I trust (like my parents or a close friend) to talk to after awhile, but I really do retreat into myself as I deal with it for a little while.
Thank you Charlotte! That means a lot to me. 🙂
It was really cool to see a letter from my younger self, although I’d also like to find a happier one sometime.