I keep being haunted by a question I was asked last week. I was speaking to a King Arthur in Literature course about Linger, and the question and answer session at the end was amazing - the students asked really thoughtful, interesting questions. One sticks in my mind:
How do you get back out of the story, when you're done with it?
Linger is a dark story, and a lot of bad things happen to Aislinn. It's told in first person, and the young woman who asked that question was concerned that point of view made it difficult for me, as a writer, to step out of the story when I was done writing it. What I told her is true: sometimes it does. Sometimes Aislinn's emotions are still under my skin when I put the pen down, and so I cancel plans with my friends and hide in my house, because I'm not quite ready to rejoin the world.
Sometimes living through Aislinn's emotions - a process that is necessary, for me, if I am going to understand them well enough to write them (although by all means, this is not the only way to write) - helps me. I used to have nightmares. Terrible ones, where I would wake up screaming, or shaking, soaked in sweat and reeking of fear. Writing hers seems to have purged mine.
But I also feel like I gave an incomplete answer to that question. Because, sometimes the hard part isn't walking back out of the story, it's walking into it when I know something bad is going to happen. Especially when I am revising, and I know that something difficult is coming up, I will go through all sorts of displacement activities to avoid sitting down and living through that scene. The temptation to pull back, to make it hurt less to write, is constant. The reason that I don't is because then I would be haunted. Haunted by the way the story should have been, by telling a lie instead of a truth. Getting the story right is what makes it possible for me to step out of it when it's finished.