Though we have lovely brains capable of calculating the distance from Mars to Pluto or memorizing the lyrics to six dozen show tunes, human beings are first, last, and always emotional creatures. It is our feeling of fear and love, and the myriad shades between, that guide us through all our life choices, from which shirt to buy to which man to marry. Without them, we would be computers without software. A writer cannot write his emotions exactly as he lives them. The emotions that come to us throughout our day are information, guiding us toward what will serve us and away from what will not. But these emotions are as immediate as impulse, and often extraordinarily strong, and it is impossible to render them accurately when experienced in this way. It would be like trying to paint a flower while holding it one centimeter from your face.
And yet a writer must feel what his characters are feeling, must, to the best of his ability, feel the same fear and love and jealousy and delight. As writers, we summon those same feelings at our desk, but because these feelings are not meant to guide us, we can instead behold them. This is the artist’s proper relationship to aesthetic emotion. While beholding the emotions from an artistic distance, we can paint them accurately without the bias inherent in heeding, or not heeding, their guidance.
This may seem academic, but in the end, whether we are writing or not, we are always the ones observing the feelings. We are the ones to whom the fear speaks, we are not the fear itself. Likewise, we are the ones who follow love or ignore it. Writing, whether it is poetry, memoir, suspense, or romance, becomes a discipline of elevated perspective. It is a perspective I have learned to seek away from my desk. Life, after all, is always friendliest when viewed as a whole, is always most inviting when you can see where you belong.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.