Put Away the Bucket: A Guest Post by Kat Heckenbach

Everyone knows what it’s like to keep a bucket by the bed when they have the stomach flu. And every pet owner has experienced awakening in the middle of the night to the hwa-hwa-hwa of a cat or dog about to puke. When the latter happens, we spring out of bed, grab the hiccupping animal, and drag them to a room with tile floor.

Why do we do these things? Because we want to control the puke. We all know it’s way easier than cleaning up after the fact. It’s sticky, and gooey, and smelly. And no matter what you use to clean it, if it hits the carpet there will be a stain, however faint.

At this point you have either run off to grab a bucket yourself because you are one of those people who gets sick just hearing someone else get sick. (It can be rather contagious, kinda like yawning for some folks.) Or, you are staring at the screen, wondering why the bleep I’m blogging about barfing.

Well, it’s like writing.

Don’t look at me like that! It is.

I’ve read a lot of stories lately, manuscripts by fellow writers, that don’t have enough raw emotion, or enough evil, or enough something to carry the scene or situation. Oh, and don’t think I’m just pointing fingers—I’ve been called out for this very thing myself.

For example, in an early scene of one of my works in progress, my main character is trying to scare off the father of her child. It’s supposed to be a dark, emotional scene. She has powers, but she’s not using them to the full potential here. She’s, quite frankly, being too nice. I admit, because the book has a significant romance element, I was thinking about an audience who may not take well to scary.

I sent the scene off to a crit partner, and she told me there wasn’t enough “me” in it. She knew I was holding back. The same thing happened in a few scenes in an earlier draft of my recently published novel, Finding Angel, as well. A beta reader told me, in reference to those scenes, “I should have been crying, but I wasn’t.”

I realized the problem. I’d been holding back. In other words, I was trying to get messy, barfy emotions onto the page in a nice, neat bucket. Or keep it on the tile.

But real life doesn’t work that way. Emotions are overwhelming. They are messy and take ages to clean up. And if we want the reader to experience the emotion, we have to be messy when we put it on the page. We have to barf it out—no bucket.

Sometimes, it can be scary. Sometimes, the emotions are a little too close to home. We hold back because it’s not just going to make a mess on the page, but because it’s going to make a mess of us as well. Maybe they are emotions we’ve held down deep for a long time, and we can only bear to let them out a bit at a time.

That’s understandable, but the problem is those emotions don’t translate well to the reader. For the writer, just a hint at a familiar painful situation is enough to feel it full-force again—but the reader doesn’t get that. In order for them to feel what we are feeling, they need more. The only way to give that to them is to let if pour forth unchecked. Barf it out. Then go back to clean up later.

Unlike pet puke, we want our emotional barf to leave a stain. It’s supposed to sink into the reader and make them remember. They should walk by your book on their shelf and feel something. Weeks, months, or even years later.

True, it’s more work. It takes more time to edit away the chaos that can result, but it’s better than having our scenes fall flat emotionally.

So, from now on, put away the bucket when you write. Don’t worry about the mess. If you want your reader to feel the force of your emotion, barf it out.


Kat Heckenbach spent her childhood with pencil and sketchbook in hand, knowing she wanted to be an artist when she grew up—so naturally she graduated college with a degree in biology, went on to teach math, and now homeschools her two children while writing. Her fiction ranges from light-hearted fantasy to dark and disturbing, with multiple stories published online and in print. Her debut novel, MG fantasy Finding Angel, is available in print and ebook.

Angel doesn’t remember her magical heritage…but it remembers her. Enter her world at www.katheckenbach.com.

You can also support Kat and her writing here at Amazon  and Barnes & Noble!

Thank you, Kat…I think. :}

Of course, I jest. This is awesome. I really appreciate you guesting for Aspire No More and I look forward to more of your work!

Everyone, support your indie writers/authors!



About Tymothy Longoria

Tymothy Longoria has been described as a writer with a flair for the dramatic (whether this is true still remains to be seen). He is a fan of all things fantastic, metal music, black t-shirts, and aligns himself with geeks, nerds, and all manner of monsters, and is an ardent, optimistic supporter of his fellow creatives. He has written several short stories for the online macabre zine Underneath The Juniper Tree and in 2012 was awarded Debut Author of the Year by Twisted Core Press for 'Envy', his contribution to the Seven Deadly Sins Anthology. He is currently editing his full-length dark fantasy retelling, Revenants: Book One of The Stories. Fairy tales? If only. Legends will be reborn. Tymothy calls Texas home, where he lives with his wife, two children, and a cat called ThunderCat aka Kitty PawKitty. He is represented by Bree Ogden of Red Sofa Literary. View all posts by Tymothy Longoria

12 responses to “Put Away the Bucket: A Guest Post by Kat Heckenbach

  • Grace Bridges

    “For the writer, just a hint at a familiar painful situation is enough to feel it full-force again—but the reader doesn’t get that.”

    Oh yeah, totally. This means as writers, we have to feel stuff *more* than our eventual readers. No wonder we’re such intense people…

    I wrote a scene a couple of weeks ago that sent me back into my darkest moments. But I suspect my first editors will tell me to pump it up even more. I can handle that – adding one layer of emotion at a time.

  • Diane Graham

    I often cry when I write. That may or may not move through to the reader. But I wholeheartedly agree that we must barf ourselves onto the pages.

  • Robynn Tolbert

    Funny. With my pets, it’s a “uk-uk-uk-bleck!” noise.

    No one preaches like the converted. Bring it, sister! And congrats for letting her get messy in your space, Tymothy.

  • Caprice Hokstad

    Well, now I’ve seen it all. I’m sure this new turn of phrase will finally command that respect I’ve been lacking. I can hear it now at Thanksgiving: “Yeah, she barfs, all right.”

  • Michele Shaw

    Seriously one of the best, most helpful posts I’ve read in a while! Thank you! (And, yes, I’m a pet owner, so I totally get it;))

  • Kat Heckenbach

    Thanks for all the comments, ya’ll! I’m glad I’m not the only one who relates to this–literal barfing (especially those midnight pet pukes) and figurative ;).

    Grace–good point about adding emotion in layers.

    Kelly–thanks!! 😀

    Diane–I know you put it all out there!

    Robynn–thanks :). And my pets must have deeper barfing voices than yours :P.

    Caprice–I think I need to make a t-shirt for writers that says, “Barf it out: No Buckets Allowed.” Think that’ll go over at conferences?? Hehe…

  • Jeff Chapman

    Well said, Kat. Another thing to remember is that an intense scene doesn’t start on that particular page but on page 1. Your whole ms should be stained. I’m glad that you’re blogging about barfing and not barfing about blogging. I think I need a bucket. : )

  • Tymothy Longoria

    Thank you all for stopping by to support Kat. I’m more than sure we all gained a new perspective on writing. That’s the “job” of the writer-to come out with new and fresh ways of seeing things, new ways to approach writing.

    Highly enjoyable and inspiring indeed.


  • Tymothy Longoria

    …Kat! Thank you, again, so much for stopping by. This helped more than the comments attest to. Truly.

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