There is only one day until Thanksgiving and, on this day, you will check and double-check your list. You will carefully cook and cover your green bean casserole and ingeniously disguise your store-bought pie as homemade. With your wrinkle-resistant outfit and positive attitude, you will be ready.
Ready to butt heads in a heated post-election discussion. Ready to talk about your dating life or why you don’t have children yet. Ready to take on controversial subjects such as religion, social issues and your decision to cut bangs. You will be ready. Won’t you?
Although you know the probing questions, thick tension and inevitable fight over the turkey leg are an integral part of Thanksgiving, it still causes you anxiety. It’s why some studies list Thanksgiving as the most stressful holiday of the year.
I could suggest deep breathing or long walks to relive the tension, but as one writer to another I advise, instead, that you immerse yourself in the chaos to bring forth your creativity.
Who wants to put themselves into a stressful situation? Who wants to explain to mom why she isn’t a grandmother. Or justify a voting choice to Uncle Always-Gets- Drunk?
If you are a writer then you do.
Simply put—tension, stress, anxiety, conflict, and debate are the fertile ground in which to plant the seeds of creativity. Great stories are not born from the mundane and ordinary.
There are certain tenets of good storytelling. Stories must have strong three-dimensional characters, a protagonist, an antagonist, an arch, and, most importantly, conflict.
Where better to find all of these elements than at your family’s holiday dinner table.
Since creativity cannot exist in a vacuum, it makes sense that ideas germinate from activity, especially in highly charged, emotionally stimulating surroundings.
Although your family’s experiences shouldn’t necessarily form the design of your next work, the drama can be used as fodder to write a more interesting story with realistic characters. People, after all, are archetypes of the characters writers create, and the most authentic characters we can write are based on those whom we know best.
It is not just the characters that are important it is also the plot, which cannot be created without conflict. And where best to find contention than at your family’s yearly dinner table?
In order to use the experience and inbuilt emotion, it is important to disconnect from your personal feelings. It may seem cold to do so, however it is an effective means in becoming the observer. And it’s only as a spectator that you can more past your self-protective and defensive posture to see the entirety of the event and the emotions held within.
There is a story wrapped around each person sitting at your table. You do not need to recreate the exact individual in your writing, but you can extract the essence of these people to inspire your work, making it more genuine and profound.
Is this right? You ask. Is it fair, appropriate, decent?
Because you are an artist and an artist needs material. Allow the fabric of your creativity to be cut from the cloth with which you cover yourself—your family.
Doing so will not only ignite your creativity, it will also allow you a means to productively deal with the unavoidable stresses you will face. By transforming your tensions into creativity, you have found a way to effectively and healthfully deal with a potentially unpleasant situation.
So as you cut a slice of apple pie, listen to your aunt’s lament of her lazy husband, tune into grandpa’s story of the war, really hear your mother’s complaints. Then sit back and allow your ideas to percolate in time to that of the coffee.
Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments.