The power of writing

When you’re young, it can be difficult to make sense of the world. When you’re older, you have the benefit of hindsight and maturity. Things that once were painful or troubling can be viewed with different eyes with the passage of time. Grudges we once carried with us disintegrate eventually, as we finally find ourselves able to put ourselves in another’s shoes.

Writing has helped heal me a lot. This last winter’s writing helped me especially. While my previous manuscript was with an editor, I drafted a new novel about love and forgiveness. It is entirely fictional — a sequel to a novel that may never see the light of day — but it helped me hugely. Indeed it helped me to forgive for real.

Just two weeks ago, I was working on edits, when all of a sudden I felt the need to behave like those brave characters in my book. In the story, those characters meet in person. Well I’m not that brave, but at least I managed to put pen to paper. It was spontaneous and perhaps stupid — yes, I have doubted my actions since the day I posted the letter — but it seemed like the right thing to do for a moment.

In the book, there is forgiveness for serious violence. In my case, forgiveness for the mere threat of it, and an apology for all the ill-feeling that followed. In the novel, these characters had carried memories of those events with them for thirty years. Fortunately for me, I haven’t carried this with me a quarter of a century — it was only reawakened by returning to writing during the pandemic — but admittedly it disturbed me at length in my late teens, inspiring my first (very bad) novel.

So to the two novels I am working on currently. Very different books to whatever I wrote back then, but still they have helped me immensely. They helped me walk in another’s shoes. They helped me see the world from the perspective of others. After writing for months, I found myself able to draw inspiration from these fictional characters in my midst, and thus found myself able to forgive people I once knew for real and ask them to forgive me too.

The gentleman in question wrote back to me after receiving my letter. Of course he didn’t remember any of it. That’s not really a surprise, of course, for nearly three decades have passed since then. In any case, he said, he was sincerely sorry if he had done anything back then that had caused me alarm. I told him it was fine; I was just grateful to have had the opportunity to apologise too, and there we parted ways.

Closure in my latest novel was far more dramatic than that anticlimax, but I am glad really. Writing fiction can help us see the world differently. It need not mirror reality. For my part, I consider this particular chapter has closed. On to the next one.

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