I’m a huge mystery buff. From classics to cozies, Italy to Wyoming, I love to read mysteries. Lately, though, it’s becoming apparent to me that I am less a fan of my own mysteries. Write from the heart! commands Joy Cowley. Other writers advise digging deep into childhood memories to find ideas and characters. But when I attempt to follow such good advice, I end up staring at blank pages.
Recently, I hit a bump in my novel. My protagonist needs to confront her mother. I continued writing – avoiding all confrontation – but the issue nagged me enough I popped in a note to myself to write the scene – in the first revision. It wasn’t until a conversation with my husband on a completely unrelated topic that I realized avoiding confrontation (especially with my mother) was a hallmark of my own childhood. Somehow, on the way to growing up I became more assertive, mentally rewriting my own narrative and recasting my own character.
In yoga, a common piece of advice is that if you don’t like a pose or find it difficult, that’s usually the pose you need most. All too true, as I found while practicing pigeon pose – my tight hips and hamstrings make sinking into the pose mental torture, if not physical – but the pose itself stretches and releases those muscles,allowing me to find relaxation and a new openness. Yogis believe that the hips and pelvis are the seat of emotions that the self will not or cannot confront and that, by relaxing and opening the hips, we can experience a release of that pent up tension.
Writing can serve much the same purpose. If you had asked me point blank if I found inspiration for this novel in my own childhood, I would have denied it. But writing demands honesty, with oneself as well as one’s characters, and in discovering my protagonist’s issues, I am rediscovering my own. This year, when I asked my mom what she wanted for her birthday, her only request was that I visit her – sans husband and child – for some mom and daughter time. I did , and it was an enjoyable and relaxing visit. We’ve been good together for a long time now – as we both age, we’re much more understanding of the other – so, when I returned home to my work, I had to ask myself, “What am I afraid of?”
Will digging into those childhood feelings start souring our current relationship? Or am I afraid of confronting my own childhood self? I don’t know. But I need to find out. Much like pigeon pose opening my hips and hamstrings, stretching those tight emotional spaces can only open my access to my own heart, improving my writing. Time to go dig those bones.
(And if you’re interested in archaeology and mysteries, try the Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths. Very good.)