This is the Reason to Use Raw Emotion in Your Writing

Please welcome author and sexual abuse survivor supporter Lia Mack as she shares about writing what scares you. 


I love the idea of cutting into myself with an Exacto knife, little by little, slice by slice, until the entrails of my being are released, splayed and displayed out in the open.

No longer hidden by the depths of my body, before me is the rawness of myself. My guts.

[share ]Gutted, I am raw. Open. Vulnerable. Real.[/share]

I’m speaking figuratively, of course, those who are feeling weak in the knees.

Don’t puke, yet…

Let me explain.

I read it somewhere that writing is akin to bleeding or vomiting or both.

(Again, figuratively speaking.)

Now, I totally agree that writing is vomiting. It’s exactly how I feel while I’m throwing words up onto a page. Just write as the words come, no censoring, no editing. Just write! Vomiting is first drafts. Vomiting is the only way to just get it done.

Bleeding, on the other hand, is editing. And we all know that good writing doesn’t come from vomiting words onto a page. Good writing comes from cutting into those words and killing off your darlings. And if you don’t know what I’m talking about when I say killing your darlings, you need to read Stephen King’s writing craft book On Writing. Read it. I can’t help you if you don’t help yourself.

So, we are told that, in order to write, we need to first vomit and then bleed. Two very unique actions. Two very pertinent requirements in the craft of writing. However, two very involuntary actions unless you first gut yourself.

When you vomit, when you bleed, yes, something has to happen to create that action. There has to be a want, a need to vomit or bleed.

I have to write.

I need to write.

We’ve all said these words a million times and will say them a million times more. And it’s because we can’t go another second without writing something, anything! And that’s good. If you don’t write, you can’t be a writer. Writers write. It’s what we do.

However, again, these two actions – vomiting, bleeding – won’t do anything for your writing unless you have a source from which to vomit, a source from which you can bleed.

And this source is your guts.

I’m not making this up. Your guts is where your life, your love, your hate, your power, your lies, your fear, your everything lives. It’s all there. And like it or not, without your guts you wouldn’t be.

Your guts are the source from which the rawness of yourself resides. It’s the sticky, dark, vulnerability from which you feel, want, desire. It’s that place inside yourself that you don’t talk about. At least, not to anyone real. You might talk about it to yourself, and that right there is probably something you keep to yourself, too, in your guts.

Just think about it. Writers are a tad bit on the, shall we say, not-so-ordinary side? And some, if not all of us talk to ourselves and/or our characters, out loud. In the open. Most of us hide this side of ourselves, but what if we didn’t? What if, for a moment, you were to walk out into the open and start up your usual ol’conversation with yourself and your characters? Talking it out. Hashing out some plot hole. Rehearsing some dialogue.

Go ahead. Do it. Go out into public and do it. I’ll wait.

Seriously. Where ever you are… Go. Do. It. Now.

Feeling the Clench

This is the Reason to Use Raw Emotion in Your Writing by guest Lia Mack, @LiaMack, Rachel Thompson,, @BadRedheadMedia

Did you feel that? Did you feel that nervousness, that fear in your gut? If you didn’t, that’s because you weren’t going to do it. So do it now.

Let’s see you’re bravery!

Let’s see your vitality!

Let’s see your ‘don’t-give-a-shit’ness because you’re better than all us cowards and you can easily go out in the open and talk freely to yourself!

Do it!

You can’t, can you? You’re all talk and a coward just like the rest of us. But you felt it, that fear, anxiety, that excitement. You felt it, didn’t you?

Yes, your heart is beating fast, now. Yes, your stomach is tied up in knots, now. But what happened before that? What did you feel first?

If you can’t answer that because you didn’t feel it, try it again. Put yourself out there. Wear that tight skirt and flaunt it. Pick up that microphone and sing. Take up that bullhorn and shout into a crowd of your peers or total gawking strangers.

That split second before the lights go up… That split second before the eyes are all on you… what do you feel?

It’s quick, so you have to pay very close attention to your body to feel it…

Do something that scares the shit out of you and tell me where you feel something first…

It’s your guts, isn’t it?

And, no. That’s not a question. That’s a sly-smiled, head-nodding statement to the fact that you felt it and know it now too. That clench – that tight hold down deep. That’s the source of all that is you. Your fear, your angst, your desire, your want, your need. No matter where those emotions may take you – vomiting, bleeding, loving, flying – it all starts in your guts.

So, now that you’ve dissected your emotions to find your true core – your guts – let’s do something fun.

Tearing into Yourself

Gutting yourself is not pretty. It’s not easy either. When I started venturing out into the world of critique groups with my first manuscript, I thought what I’d hear back was the usual fix this, fix that. And I did. I’m no good with grammer. Or spelling. When taken in the recommended doses, the medication doesn’t cause hypoventilation; however, the intake of a too high dose can cause this adverse effect. Researches have demonstrated that the medication is efficient against pain. Moreover, simultaneous use of Tramadol with Naproxen allowed to decrease the dosage of the latter.

But what I didn’t expect to hear was that my manuscript was nice.


The goal with my novel Waiting for Paint to Dry was to reveal one woman’s quest for inner peace amidst deep depression and suicidal contemplation by bringing her to a point where she has to take back her life from the grips of PTSD due to being raped, or lose her life altogether.

Nice ain’t anywhere in that healing journey.

Not until the end anyway, when she stumbles into love… I am a true love junkie. But I digress.

Nice was death to the honesty that I wanted to show and share. My novel, although not a memoir, is a fictionalized representation of my own healing journey back from the dark spots of my life. But it was good that my critique partners thought it was nice that I added in a rape scene. It was good to feel the clench in my guts when they said it was nice that my character was afraid to fly home to resolve her past. They didn’t get it because they didn’t feel it. And that was all my fault. I hadn’t put enough emotion into it, or any emotion!

I hadn’t been honest. I hadn’t dug deep. I hadn’t put myself in the way of fear and gutted myself. I hadn’t found my vulnerability and spread it out thin to find the pinpoints of exactly where my character needed to find freedom.

But I was afraid to be honest.

I was afraid to tell the truth.


That’s just where I needed to be. Afraid to tell the truth. It was the best starting point to tell the truth because it was from here that I found my guts. And boy did I feel them. I was nervous. I was shy. I didn’t want to relive the dark spots. I only wanted to feel the light.

So I went back to Stephen King’s On Writing. Yes. This is the book to read when you are learning and relearning the craft of writing. I reread what Stephen King says, that “Writing is not a church. It’s not your family. It’s not politically correct. It’s writing. Tell the truth.” (I’m paraphrasing of course.)

Telling The Truth 

It only took three little words to make me realize what I had to do. [share ]I had to use the clench. I had to utilize the fear.[/share] I had to feel it and write it from my guts. And telling the truth made it churn for sure. I made a poster of paper and markers and taped TELL THE TRUTH to the wall above my writing desk. TELL THE TRUTH surrounded me everywhere I went, every word I wrote. If at any time I felt it was nice I deleted it. Went back inside, deep into my guts and found the truth.

And it hurt. Oh, my God, did it hurt. I wrote. I cried. I wrote and cried some more. I found truths that not even my years of therapy had found. I wrote and then deleted the truth sometimes too. It was too much. Too raw. Too real.

But then I’d write it back in, after taking some time to get used to the pain. The suffering. The dredging up of my past and my sorrow and my journey and my pain. It was real and it was honest. And it made my character come so alive that I cried and cried some more. She was real. So was her pain. And she made it. She made it out of the darkness and into the light.

I knew I had gutted myself right when I had to reread and edit and reread and edit the manuscript again and again when my editor and publisher sent it back with edits. I knew I would have to reread my manuscript many times over to get it right, but I had no idea that I was going to also relive the emotional journey I had gutted into my character’s life. But it was validating. And an eye-opener. If I didn’t feel, if I didn’t cry, if I didn’t laugh out loud when I read something that should have made me feel something so strong as to ignite a physical reaction, I dug deep. I peered down into myself and reached for that morsel that had been hiding.



I pulled it up out of me and laid it on the page. If it hurt, if it felt real, I knew I had gutted myself right. I knew I had found the right mix of raw emotion so that my character’s emotional journey would translate to my reader.

If you don’t laugh out loud and cry your heart out when you’re reading your manuscript, you haven’t gutted yourself enough yet.

So reach down. Drag it out. Dissect it. Claw at it with your knife. And if you have no clue how your character should feel because it’s not something you yourself have lived through yourself, you need to do some research, soul-searching and ask others how they feel.

Find the root. Find the guts. It’s the best way to use raw emotion for your writing.


About the Author:

Lia MackIn addition to her debut novel Waiting for Paint to Dry, Lia Mack’s creative non-fiction has been seen in such publications as The Washington PostNickelodeon Jr. MagazineAdvances in Bereavement Magazine and Nesting Magazine. She is also a guest blogger at award-winning writer/director Angela Shelton’s, a blog dedicated to inspiring and empowering sexual abuse survivors. You can visit Lia online at

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram


Her Book:

Waiting for Paint to Dry


Photo from Pixabay


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  1. Majanka Verstraete (@iheartreads) on August 17, 2015 at 8:39 am

    You’re right, you need emotions when writing. The only way to summon up emotions for your characters is to feel them yourself, at least to some extent. Raw emotions make writing stronger.


    • Lia Mack on August 18, 2015 at 3:23 am

      Exactly! Can’t produce an emotional response in your readers if you’re dead inside.

  2. cathleentownsend on August 17, 2015 at 10:00 am

    This was an amazing post. I need to do more of this. Thank you.

    • Lia Mack on August 18, 2015 at 3:24 am

      You’re very welcome! What topics would you like me to dig into next? 😉

  3. Lloyd Lofthouse on August 17, 2015 at 10:08 am

    I came back from Vietnam in 1966 with a severe case of combat induced PTSD, and I locked all those gut reactions of what I had lived through over there in my head inside of a locked vault.

    Years later, my parents mentioned that I never talked about what happened over there after I came home, and they talked about it and decided not to ask questions.

    The PTSD led to heavy drinking and only through the booze did I gut myself over and over, suicidal because if I had not forced myself to stop drinking and eat healthier in 1982, I’d be dead now.

    I had to choose, and I voted for life through drastic lifestyle changes.

    But it still took 47 years before I started to talk about what was behind that gut reactions caused by the PTSD, and talking about it in a room with other vets from Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, who were also learning to survive and manage the pain, was an awakening. When you are sitting next to a special forces medic thirty years younger than you who has 100% PTSD because of his multiple deployments to Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan, putting your gut reactions into perspective takes on a totally different meaning.

    I just finished the rough draft of my next novel and when I start the revisions in a few weeks, after giving it a rest, I’m going to make sure the main character cuts into his/her shape-shifting guts with an edged weapon sharper than a razor. I have a few of those around the house.

    • Lia Mack on August 18, 2015 at 3:40 am

      Lloyd, first and foremost, thank you for your service. Secondly, I’m glad you’re surrounded by the unfortunate company of others with combat induced PTSD. I say unfortunate because I wish war wasn’t necessary and our men and women in the armed forces didn’t have to live that reality. Do you feel veterans today have a better support system in place when coming back from deployments?

      I’m honored this guest post helped you see the need to dig deeper for your writing. However, a word of caution: digging and dredging up of these long held back feelings can at first be cathartic and later be tourture (when you have to go back and reread, relive it all through the editing phase…) Be sure to go in knowing this and take care of yourself. I wrote more about writing in true life events here:

      Wish you had had a better support network back in ’66. Thankful you’ve found one now.

      Good luck in your writing!

      ~ Lia

      • Lloyd Lofthouse on August 18, 2015 at 10:39 am

        Do you feel veterans today have a better support system in place when coming back from deployments?


        The reason I say yes is because many Vietnam Vets—some are members of Congress like McCain—spent decades fighting for that support and now it is serving the vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. It isn’t perfect and there is room for improvement, but it’s a lot better than what existed after the Vietnam War when there was little to no support. For instance, I didn’t know the support was there until I retired from teaching in 2005 and ended up talking to a Navy vet by accident who told me. The VA system currently cares for about 7 million vets but more than 20 million are eligible.

        What’s interesting is that VA’s therapy for PTSD has evolved to the point over the last few decades, starting mostly with Clinton’s second term as president when he pushed legislation to improve and expand services to vets through the VA, that VA mental health care work hard to get the vets to relive the most traumatic events repeatedly no matter how painful. Through this, the vets are taught to recognize the PTSD triggers and how to manage them. It’s not easy.

        The VA medical center near Stanford University works with the university and its students to evolve the therapy for vets. Our daughter, who graduated from Stanford in June of 2014, was part of that program and worked with vets out of the Palo Alto VA clinic near Stanford. The vet she worked with the most had lost his legs or arms (I don’t remember which) in combat in Iraq from an IED and the vet also had brain trauma from the blast. The Palo Alto VA center also studies the effect of pets on PTSD by assignment trained animals to become part of vets lives to help them deal with the trauma.

        The special forces vet I mentioned has a service dog he’s brought with him to the group we belong to. A large, menacing looking dog who is gentle as a lamb and keeps its large eyes on his vet to make sure to act if the vet’s PTSD is triggered. This very large dog will then gently stand up and put a huge paw on the vets knee to get his attention to defuse the PTSD event.

  4. crosshair on August 18, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Hemingway said it best: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” There are, of course, variations on this, but they all basically say the same thing.

    • Lloyd Lofthouse on August 21, 2015 at 7:19 pm

      Yes, and Hemingway never considered himself a great writer, but a damn good rewriter.

  5. […] was recently a guest blogger at BadRedHead Media about the importance of using raw emotion in your […]

  6. […] is by successful author Lia Mack, where she discusses ways she injected emotion into her writing. You can read it here. What makes this post so engaging is she gives actual examples of her writing, before emotion, and […]

  7. […] Lia Mack said in a recent post, “This is the Reason to Use Raw Emotion in Your Writing on Rachel Thompson’s […]

  8. […] here to tell you how to overcome that fear and start […]

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