Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


One of the trendier debates in the psychology world these days is “nature vs. nurture”. When some guy goes crazy and opens fire on a crowd of tourists, whose fault is it? Is it nature: some chemical imbalance, some deficiency in the brain, or is it nurture: Mommy abandoned him, Daddy spanked him too hard, Uncle Steve got a little too friendly? The debate rages on.

Something that people rarely¬†consider when they’re arguing for nature or nurture is how dramatic a role our environment can play in shaping our actions, mindset and well-being. I function the best–and I’m sure I’m not alone here–when my environment is harmonious. Strife and conflict throw me off-balance, and if the problems are serious enough, they can make me completely lose sight of the big picture.
Of course, the place where we spend most of our days plays a huge part in this. Yesterday I had a really bad day at work, and when I came home, I just wanted to talk it over with The Boy. I had no energy for doing pad work, and I certainly had no creative spark left over for writing. We talked for a few hours, I made us dinner (a Jillian-approved recipe, of course), and then I went to bed early. Upsetting events just drain all energy from me.
Work is one thing, but how do you cope when your home environment, what is supposed to be your sanctuary, becomes a battleground? I’ve heard people say that writers need turmoil, conflict, and intense emotional pain in order to create. Am I a complete freak for being the opposite? I can’t work on a novel or story if I’m busy fighting with someone, or crying over something nasty a person said to me. It tears me up too much–I have nothing left to give.

I used to date a man who was completely self-centered. He didn’t come off that way at first, of course–they never do. His problems were always the most important thing in the world, and almost everything was a problem. Whether he’d forgotten something at work, or some person was too slow crossing the street, it was all worthy of a full-scale blow-up . And I’m talking the works: screaming, swearing, hitting things (although thankfully not me!). Everyone loves a scapegoat, and soon enough, I became the reason for all this man’s problems. I tried being understanding. I tried taking a firm hand with him, letting him know he couldn’t treat me that way. I even tried anticipating situations that may become issues and circumventing them before they happened. Nothing worked.

I loved him and didn’t want to give up on the relationship. So over time, I changed. I lost confidence. I was on edge all the time. I never knew what his mood was going to be like, or what would set him off next. I never knew when I was going to have to defend myself against some ludicrous accusation. For the two years I was with this man, I never wrote a word of fiction. I rarely exercised, and gained some weight for the first time in my life. Dinner was often a bag of potato chips or a bowl of popcorn. I could barely drag myself out of bed in the morning, and I got headaches and stomachaches with a vengeance.

Now, am I blaming my ex for my lack of writing and exercising? Not at all. I’m a big fan of personal responsibility, so I accept that the only fault was mine. But I do think my environment played a huge role. All of my energy, both creative and otherwise, was expended trying to predict his behavior, meet his needs, and avoid his outrages. When it came to my own goals, I had nothing left to give.

For me to write well when I’m in a relationship, I need to be in a partnership with someone who’s understanding about the time commitment writing requires. Someone who is genuinely interested and excited about what I’m trying to do. But overall, I need calm. I need peace so I can spend time focusing on my goals without worrying about what horrible drama is coming up next.

Another failed relationship was with a man who was completely ambivalent towards me. He acted like he loved me, so I believed he did. But whenever I started thinking that our relationship had potential, he would drop some bomb on me. I’d pull back, and then he would chase me. I spent a lot of time agonizing over his feelings, but this time I did write. A lot of crappy, forlorn poetry. It’s not much use to me now.

There must be writers out there who use pain and trauma as a jumping off point for creating works of art. We hear the cliche of the tortured poet so often that it must be true.

I’m interested in hearing your opinion about the impact of environments. It doesn’t have to be about writing or fitness–I imagine any goal can be affected. Dated any drama kings or queens? Share your stories here!

Making the Cut, Day Three: Managed to stick to the meal plan in spite of the bad day, which is a minor miracle for me. Usually that’s when I get weak and give in. Bit sore and stiff, but dinner (poached dill salmon with dill sauce) was very tasty. Still didn’t drink enough water, but I’m guzzling it today…honest.
To bed at: 10:15 pm
Awake at: 6:20 am
Novel pages written:¬† One. Didn’t do too well today…had to craft a scene that is heavy on description and imagery, and that doesn’t come easily for me. I’m more of a dialogue and action type.
Exercise: Jillian’s plan, day four.

Thanks for reading!
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2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. kungfusinger

    I know the feeling, I have had almost the exact same experiences. Maybe we dated the same guys?

    My Ex was diagnosed with cronic low-level depression. While he could function fine on an impersonal level, he was paranoid, and viewed the entire world out to get him. He also would go of on nutso episodes. There was one time we were driving from GP to Calgary and he became convinced his nose was missing. Not kidding you there. This culminated in a very tense few minutes while I convinced him to pull over to the shoulder and check his nose (it was still there).

    I don’t know if for him it was nature or nurture. His whole family was depressed and dealt with it in different ways. The Ex was suicidal. His dad drank. His sister found Jesus. His mom was a shopaholic.

    Sidenote: Shopaholics are not cute people with keen fashion sense and no willpower like the series of books would have you believe. She had been known to go into a store and buy two pairs in each colour available of the exact same pair of pants (for a total of 12 pair) and return them the next day when they would not fit in her closet. Five purses. 20 T-shirts. 3 pairs of reeboks. Shopping made her feel better.

    Since the whole family suffered from depression, did the depression come from genetics or growing up in a family where your parents are both depressed? It is impossible to say.

    On the other hand I can tell you what living with the Ex did to me. I was afraid to say anything to him in fear of the next big blow-up/suicide threat. I was afraid to talk to my family incase he overheard me telling them something he did not approve of. I was afraid to have friends because of how jealous he would get if I left him to go do something fun. He used to even accuse me of having an affair with his best friend when said friend offered to take me to church. I was afraid to go to church because of how jealous he would get if I left him to go do something spiritual.

    As a result – I became bitter. I looked into my future and saw nothing good. I could not even see myself anymore. I knew I had to get out or I would die by inches on the inside. I was only inches away as it was. So I left.

    After the Ex came the Boy. Not like your “the boy” the nickname is based on maturity level in this case.

    The Boy was not capable of taking responsibility for his own actions. If I told him to stop something, he would keep doing it just to bug me. If I asked him who did something completely inappropriate (like looking at porn/downloading junk on my computer) he would blame it on someone else. If I caught him in the act of doing something inappropriate (like chopping open a coconut shell with my $50 knife) he would act like it was no big deal, and those dents in the blade were there already. Nature vs Nurture? I don’t know. I only me his mom the once, and his dad died when he was very little.

    What did the BOY do to me? I was not miserable, but I was not happy. I was sad a lot and starten looking for a convenient time and place to end the relationship.

    I started dreaming about the MAN. The man I married. We had met already and being with “not the one” made me realize that the MAN was “the one.”

    One other thing to note. I am a songwriter. Not because I try, but I am occasionally inspired and a song is written organically. I wrote some silly juvenile songs in high school. Then I met the Ex. I did not write another song until I met the MAN. Then they just started coming. While I was with the BOY – no songs. When I married the MAN, I wrote him a song for the wedding. It is the best song I’ve ever written. It was just recorded. It will probably never make it onto the radio, but I don’t care. I do it for me anyway.

  2. Kim

    I too can relate to all those relationship experiences. It took a long time after I finally got my ex to move out before I stopped hearing his voice inside of my head criticizing everything I did. But his mother criticized everything he and anyone did so there perhaps was a bit of nature and nuture combined. If I needed help with something I always got the sixth degree about why I couldn’t do it myself…. so I was conditioned, everytime I needed him to do something where I would go into this big justification rationale for why I needed him to do it. I recently did this with the boyfriend that followed him and he looked at me and said, “No worries, I don’t need the explaination,” and it took me aback that I didn’t need to do that anymore. My ex was also a boy and would do things I disliked simply because I disliked it. He would do it more, in fact. And we won’t even talk about his approach for sex which was beyond jeuvenile.

    Presently my ex won’t sign our separation agreement. Not because he disagrees with anything in it but because it is in his control not to. I found him the lawyer and I did all the up front work. It is dated November 2009. You can count the months from there but that is unaccepably long. The mistake I made was that I didn’t set up a dual appointment with two lawyers. When it comes time for the divorce I will have to do that.

    I wrote my first novel and about half of my second while with my ex husband but it did it to hide from him so he wasn’t a part of it anyway. It is interesting how you can hide in your own house. Writing became my first step toward leaving.

    I couldn’t write with the one who came after either. He was just too clingy. In some ways, after being ignored and feeling unloved, that was what I needed for the time being but eventually I saw that I couldn’t do anything for myself without him pouting. I had to go to bed at the same time as him, I had to be by his side when he was around. If I was on the computer — even working from home — he would get irritated. Truth was I was starting to hide from him by being on the computer.

    I was in another relationship similar to the second one you describe where there was all kinds of games and approach-avoidance behaviours. I loved him and he withdrew because of this. So that made me withdraw when I saw him freeze and then he would chase me and that was all the proof I needed that he couldn’t live without me and so the cycle went on and on. So I get that.

    I could blog about these men but 2 out of 3 of them are “friends” where my blog gets posted. The other I have too many of his family members as friends and even though they are not terribly active contributors you can never trust that they aren’t reading even though they aren’t posting. I’ve said a little bit about my marriage in my blog, I’ve said virtually nothing about guy #2 there and I’ve said quite a bit about guy #3 but all in a disguised fashion.

  3. Kim

    Pare II (because it wouldn’t let me post the whole thing).

    Like you, I cannot write when I am emotionally twisted up inside. I can write whining and complaing things in journal form or emails to friends. Most of my second novel, while pretty good in places, is difficult to read because it is too weighted down with the emotional pain I was feeling in my real life. So it will likely be abandoned. Not that it wasn’t good practice. I can write, but not stuff I can share. My blog you will notice is devoid of posts from October through January of this year because there was too much transition going on. I was breaking up with guy #2 and I moved houses to get rid of the ghosts of guy #1.

    My present guy who I will call guy #4 is who I am hoping is the MAN.. Like the poster above he was someone I knew for a while before I realized I loved him, although I always adored him and gravitated to him when I saw him. I too was thinking about him off and on while with guy #2… Problem is that he is friends with guy #3 and that has been a bit of a hurdle to cross.

    See if you can make sense of all that… lol

  4. Story Teller

    Wow! And double wow! I figured this topic would strike a chord, particularly with women (I’m sure there are guys who alter their behavior in order to not set off their gfs/wives, but I haven’t met any), but I never expected a response like this.

    It almost goes without saying, but obviously I’m sorry for all you both went through. Thankfully, you both managed to get out and are in a better place now, as I am.

    @kungfusinger. I’m glad you found your MAN, because you make him very happy. And that makes me happy. He’s one of the best.

    @Kim – I don’t have to worry as much about having my exs see these posts because the ones that treated me REALLY badly are definitely not my friends, on Facebook or elsewhere, and also because I’ve endured so many crappy relationships that the scenarios above could be two out of several people.

    Thank you both for commenting!

  5. Anonymous

    Oh yeah, if you don’t have a man who is supportive and emotionally mature enough, that’s a hard road. I also think having a positive attitude, not just being “funny” but truly looking for the good in life is an important trait to have in a person. Humour is great but a positive attitude is “more great”.

    ((Another failed relationship was with a man who was completely ambivalent towards me. He acted like he loved me, so I believed he did. Whenever I started thinking that our relationship had potential, he would drop some bomb on me. I’d pull back, and then he would chase me)).

    I’m curious … what sort of bombs would he drop? I ask becuz I’ve experiencing something similar – when we’d talk it always started with everything that’s been going wrong till I talked him through it and then it’s like he’s a different person (all happy!) suddenly. And when I needed him, somehow he’s not around or going through problems at the same time which = me being there for him all over again instead of my needs being met. Hmm.

    ((I spent a lot of time agonizing over his feelings)) In retrospect, what were the warning signs that you ignored and how did you know he really didn’t love you after all? Might help a sister out, thanks storyteller!

  6. Story Teller

    Well, it’s hard to give examples without “gossiping”, but as a for instance…say this guy never wanted to get married. You’ve just spent a delightful weekend with him out at a cabin, where you met his entire family. Your relationship has never felt so strong. Then, on the drive back home, he says “Maybe I *would* want to get married someday…*if* I ever met the right person.” Ouch! Bomb dropped.

    In a healthy relationship, there’s give and take. Sometimes it’s all about you; other times it’s all about him. But if it’s always about his needs and his feelings; if you find yourself walking on eggshells because you never know what mood he’s going to be in; if when you’re crying and upset, he shows indifference, or worse, gets MAD at you; and if there’s a lot of gameplaying involved, those are all warning signs.

    Hope that helps. It would be easier to assist if I knew more about your situation.


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