Monday, 16 May 2016

Emotionally Invested

Recently, it’s been pointed out to me that I have skipped some of the most important parts while writing my children’s book.

I have been writing a junior fiction novel for about three years now. The story is an account of a young girl's journey with alopecia areata. Alopecia areata is a condition that causes the immune system to attack hair follicles so that the hair falls out and in some cases doesn’t re-grow.

The parts I skipped were where the girl first discovers that there is a problem with her hair and is diagnosed with alopecia.
I have had alopecia my whole life, so I know the process. Why did I leave this part out?

Two very experienced writers have suggested that I describe this process to help readers connect with my main character emotionally and get a better understanding of what alopecia is.

This sounds very logical to me.

Unfortunately, the whole process of discovering that your hair is going to fall out--and there is nothing that can be done about it--is not pleasant. It’s heart breaking.
For me this means that I have to rewind my memories to times I have purposefully tried to forget. I have to relive those emotions to be able to how to write them in a way that will touch my readers.

My question now is: How does one unlock painful memories and emotions in order to write about things honestly?
How do you tap into those emotions so that you can reach out to your readers and connect on that deeper level?
How do you sift through those emotional deep waters to know what is important for the story and what is not?

I realise these are big questions and I am discovering some of the answers as I dive into these oceans. One of the most amazing outcomes from all of this intense work is that I am finally emotionally investing in my story. Which was what I wanted to do all along. It's only now that I have had the missing pieces pointed out to me that I can delve into those subconsciously blocked memories.

Linsey Painter loves to write stories that draw on her rich heritage of growing up overseas. She and her husband work with Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) and live in Cairns with their two rambunctious boys. Linsey grew up in Indonesia and is an expert at rolling her ‘r’s and eating nasi goreng. She has since lived and worked in Papua New Guinea— yes she has seen a bird of paradise and Arnhem Land— no she didn’t encounter any crocodiles. She has had a series of short fiction stories published in Thrive Connection online magazine for women in missions as well as non-fiction stories about living and working in remote communities with MAF. Linsey is now enjoying writing for children. Linsey blogs at


  1. Hi Linsey, thank you for a thought provoking post. Firstly, I am so sorry that you suffer from Alopacia areata. That is not something easy to deal with I know. A friend of mine too suffered from the same but I am happy to tell you that now, about 40 odd years later she has a lovely head of long hair. I do hope your own hair has recovered somewhat?

    I do like all the questions you've asked. In my own life, I once wrote a book based on a season of grief. I found healing when I realised there was a book in it. And as I wrote, God brought me healing. I wonder if you need to spend time with a caring Christian friend or a prayer counsellor in order to tap into those memories? Or better still, just commit to spending time with the Lord asking Him to reveal those memories and not just to reveal them but to heal. He is a God who knows everything about everything and perhaps He will use the experience to bring growth in your own walk with Him as well as to bless many others. (He's done that for me too - many times.)

    I agree that it's hard knowing what's important for the story and what is not when we are very close to it. I'd guess you might need a critique partner or two as you discover more of those important memories and can get an objective opinion about it.

    All the best with your story Linsey. I know it's a story close to your heart. May the Lord use it to bring healing to your own heart and blessing to many.

    1. Hi Anusha, thanks for your comments and sharing your story as well.

      I have found writing down my experience to be incredibly cathartic. As I've healed emotionally over the years that I have been writing, the story has changed as well. It's been a very interesting process. This latest step that I have taken has deepened the story emotionally and taken it to a whole new level, which is wonderful.

      Thank you for your encouragement. Lovely to hear that your friend has hair now!

  2. Thanks for being so honest in your blog, Linsey. I can easily relate to what you wrote, both as a writer and as a mum. One of our daughters has alopecia areata and gradually lost all her hair when she was around 19-20, although there had also been a slight occurrence of it when she was around 10. It began to grow back in patches but would then fall out again, then eventually stopped doing even that--she is now in her forties. I certainly agonised with her in that whole journey and honour her to this day for her courage and her lovely compassion for others. And I honour you too!

    Re your re-living that difficult journey as you write, Linsey, I agree with Anusha's comments above but would also suggest you give yourself plenty of time to stare and think and pray and sense God's gentle presence around you as you do. And just be kind to yourself in the process! I remember re-living various difficult parts of my life when I wrote my memoir 'Soul Friend' and also my current non-fiction work-in-progress. It can send you into a spin, for sure, and bring up so many emotions, but there can be healing in it all, as Anusha mentioned. Sometimes it takes a few trips 'around the mountain' with God to experience that, but each time, we are getting higher, so to speak.

    I also hope you can find a couple of good friends/critique partners to walk the journey with you and help you sort out what to include and what is better left unsaid. If time permits and if you would like, I would be happy as a mum of someone with alopecia to comment on what you write. God bless and guide you in the whole process.

    1. Hi Jo-Anne, thank you so much for sharing about your daughter and your journey with her as well. I'm amazed to hear of so many people who have experienced alopecia themselves or had a friend with it. Thank you for your understanding and encouragement.
      I agree with your suggestion to take time in re-living. When I first started to write about those painful memories I tried to force myself to keep going and get it all written quite fast. The consequences were huge for me and my family. I couldn't believe the emotional upheaval that resulted. God has made us all very complicated and it's hard to understand even my own reactions at times.
      Thank you for your offer of reading what I write. That would be lovely if you had the time.
      As I said to Annusha writing this story has been such a healing process for me. I'm so thankful that I have the time and love of writing to be able to do it to be blessed through it and hopefully to bless other as well.

  3. Hi Linsey, I had a similar problem with my non-fiction book which is about my experiences with God. I wanted to rush over the experiences and just write about what I had learnt. But like you, I had experienced writers tell me I need to write about how it felt, especially the painful bits. And like you, I didn't want to remember.

    Fortunately for me a lot of the things I was writing about were a long time ago and I've experienced a lot of healing but it still wasn't easy. I found it helpful to do small bits at a time and focus on adding just one extra sentence, until I was able to revisit it and add more at later time.

    1. Hi Susan, thanks for sharing about your own experience. A good friend of mine suggested that after doing a bit of work on the story I then go and write in my journal how I was feeling. It really helped me understand and acknowledge how I was feeling at a deeper level after writing about the past but it also helped to release those after effects so that I didn't carry it with me for the rest of the day.

  4. Writing honestly about something like that is so hard. It's not an easy road and I think everyone has a different way of going about it. The only thing I can suggest is that you pray about it and perhaps get a counsellor who can help you work through that grief. Sometimes they even suggest writing about it as a form of working through it. But I'd talk to a professional about it first and see if it's something they believe will work for you.

    1. Hi Lynne, thanks for your insight. You are so right, we are all individuals and heal differently. A friend of mine also cautioned me to not force the memories or healing as that might do more damage then good. God is so amazing in bringing us to a point where we can actually start to reflect and understand ourselves and situations but often that takes a lot of time and not always to our schedules :)