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IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: Remembering sadness

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Rhéal Nadeau
Posted on: May 19, 2002

This is part of the "Remembering" series of exercises.

A challenge in writing is how to present emotions. Emotions are at the heart of good writing (fiction or non-fiction), yet are so hard to share, because they are at the same time so personal and so universal. Emotions have been used, and abused, since writing began, so an added challenge is falling into cliché or triteness, or thinking that just naming an emotion will be adequate.

Our best resource in this regard is our own experience (followed by observation of others experiencing these emotions.) By remembering how *I* reacted in a given situation, how an emotion felt *to me* at various occasions, I can draw on that in my writing to make the emotions in my writing more real. I can even project - I will never face a fire-breathing dragon, but I can remember being cornered by an aggressive dog as a child, and extrapolate from that.

This week I'd like us to remember sadness. But first, a bit of advice...

In past Remembering exercises, we have seen people dealing with traumatic events in their lives - sometimes at some cost to themselves. Please remember that you do not have to use the most serious event in your life for these exercises. For this exercise, if you are experiencing grief with which you have not yet come to terms (perhaps you have lost a loved one recently, for example), then you don't need to use that experience for your submission (in fact, it might be better not to, as it would have harder for you to transpose the experience into words, thus possible detracting from the purpose of the exercise. And such still-active emotions will make it harder to deal with critiques - harder to separate the comments on our writing from those emotions.)

So, pick an incident you are ready to present (and yes, it is OK if writing your submission helps you deal with unresolved feelings - but if it does, ask yourself before posting, "am I ready to accept critiques on this?")

On the other hand, don't pick something so remote or minor that you can't recall how it felt at the time...

In fact, remember that you don't have to write a submission every week, so as long as you meet the participation requirements you can elect to skip an exercise that doesn't suit you (but ask yourself why it doesn't suit you, and if this might not be an opportunity rather than a problem...)

Anyway, back to our topic.

Sadness comes in many forms, and this exercise applies to all of them. Sadness can take the form of regret, grief, remorse, depression, etc. It can express itself in anger, in tears, in withdrawal - or in all these ways. It can change how we do things in future, making us wiser, or drive us to extreme acts, making us reckless. So describing sadness will have many aspects: what caused it, what feelings (perhaps mixed or even contradictory) did it inspire, how did we act as a result?

As you write your submission, consider the five stages of grief: denial, anger or resentment, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (See http://www.planet101.com/5stages.htm for a brief description of these stages, as they apply to death - though they apply to any sad event.) Did you experience all those stages? Which were most significant? How did each stage manifest itself?

(Because this is a complex emotion, we will have a longer-than-usual word count for this exercise.)

So, in 500 words or less (if possible), remember a moment of sadness in your life, and describe it for us. Be truthful, don't embellish, don't dramatize.

(And as noted above, before posting, make sure you are really prepared to submit this for public critique...)

When critiquing, remember that we are dealing with personal moments, so make sure to focus on the writing, on how the emotions are described. Don't question or criticize the emotions themselves, or any actions that might have resulted.

Rhéal Nadeau's wrap-up
Posted on: May 28, 2002

I must say, great job everybody! A difficult topic led to one of our best weeks. The submissions dealt with sadness in various forms, and made that emotion real, not trite or cliché (and this was, after all, the goal of the exercise.) I recognize that it took a lot of courage to write many of those submissions; I hope it has been a positive experience for everyone.

It was great also to see the variety of topics, from major issues like the death of a parent or the breakdown of a marriage to (supposedly minor) experiences like an injured animal. It it important to realize (and the submissions made this very clear) that sadness is sadness, very real to the person experiencing it.

I am glad I extended the word count. It was only when I saw the submissions that I realized that describing sadness means first explaining what was lost. Love, or hope, or anger, may spring out of nowhere, but sadness comes from deep within our lives, after we have become attached to someone or to something.

Great work on the critiques as well. Critiquing such personal, painful, memories presents a special challenge. Fortunately, the critiques were positive, emphasizing when sadness was conveyed well, and nit-picking only on the writing itself, respecting the feelings of the authors.

One more comment. One thing I have learned from my participation in these lists, and through email contacts, is that there are no ordinary lives. All of us experience moments of happiness - and of tragedy. We all meet challenges that could break us; we all achieve our victories as well as we can. This, in itself, is a valuable lesson which this week's submissions illustrated very well.


Web site created by Rhéal Nadeau and the administrators of the Internet Writing Workshop.
Modified by Gayle Surrette.