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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Heart of Everything

Quote: “If you want to write something that will move other people, you have to come to terms with the fact that the writer is by profession a squealer. He learns by starting to squeal on himself.”
~Sol Stein
Song Playing on Itunes: Coheed and Cambria: Welcome Home

I thought I would talk about the title of my blog today. It’s called “Myself, Without the Shell” because I believe the best writing comes straight from inside you, as cheesy as that may sound. But it’s true. Over the years, and many books later, I can tell when I pick up a book how close to the “truth” the writer got with their book. I believe there is a truth to every book, no matter how far away the subject is from the writer’s daily life (says the writer of urban fantasy…I spend most of my time straight making things up). But there is a kernel of truth in every story, admist all the lies we weave about the characters and the plot.

I believe this truth transcends all subjects and genres, fiction and even non-fiction. I think it’s what gives a book heart, the difference between reading something and forgetting about it immediately and reading a book that stays with you, leaves a mark on you. Have you ever read a book that was good, there was no discernable problem with it, the characters were fleshed out, the plot well turned, written with quality, but just didn’t seem to have oomph? It felt like something was missing? I think that is the truth, or the heart of the book, that isn’t shining through.

Now, I am not saying that the author who wrote a book that didn’t grab you is a hack, and only writing for the money, and so on. It’s possible you weren’t in the right spot emotionally for the book to resonate with you. It’s possible the writer didn’t really know how to tap into that core (since it’s REALLY difficult to do, there is a constant urge to cover up, and protect yourself). I do think the more you write from fear, the “People will think I am nuts for writing this out, so I am going to skip it over”, or “Mom would DIE if she read this in one of my books!” or “The Legion of Decency will send me hate mail if I use this word, so I will omit it” and so on, the more you will stifle these inner truths. Because you’re not writing to please everyone. You can’t please everyone. Go ahead and try. Do an experiment for a day, a week, a month, however long it takes to hammer the point home. You will never please everyone. One person might say you’re being too pushy, and another might say you need to stand up for yourself more. And the real result of this people-pleaser game is that YOU will never be happy, because you’re not doing anything for yourself.

Trust me, I know. I enjoy making people happy. I have a backbone, and I can be hell-on-wheels stubborn (just ask my fiancé ;) ), but it genuinely makes me happy to make other people happy. I love giving people presents and seeing their face light up, or helping them with chores and seeing their panic turn into relief.

But you have to draw the line somewhere. There’s a really funny t-shirt that says, “I can only please one person today, and you’re not it. Tomorrow isn’t looking so good either.” Picking and choosing your battles is important. I try to get as close to the truth as I feel it in my writing, and ignore my Inner Editor telling me that if my hard-as-nails main character Scud uses a curse word, people will think I am a bad person. On the other hand, if you have a character that wouldn’t use a four letter word, but you have them dropping the f-bomb every other word because you think it will make you seem “cool” or “tough” or “edgy”, that is just as disingenuous.

So, to bring my point home (you thought I got off on a tangent and forgot about the title of my blog, didn’t you? Tangents are going to happen, probably a lot knowing me, but that is not this day. That is not this day.) I have trained myself to write straight from the heart to the page. I try anyway. Sometimes it’s just a mess and I have to edit like crazy. Sometimes Self-Doubt and Inner Editor get together and gang up on me, and I squirm as I am writing a tough scene. But that let’s me know I am doing a good job, if I am sweating and bleeding on the page.

Letting yourself write uncensored will also develop your writing voice. I know it’s how I hone mine, between emails, and now this blog. It lets you cut straight to why you, and anyone else, should care about what you’ve written. Now, when I say “honest” I don’t mean “over-sharing” since there is such a thing on the internet, especially on public blogs. This blog is my virtual representation, and even though it might be “honest” for me to say that I absolutely hated this book, and think the author is a hack, the blog is not necessarily the best place for that sort of thing. I don’t want anyone out there worrying that since they aren’t blogging about their bowel movements, they aren’t being honest enough.

But if you find your interest waning in writing project after project, if nothing seems to catch your eye, consider what it is about that book that interests you? Why are you bothering, when you could be doing so many other things?

I bother because it’s what I do. I have always been a writer. I have always told stories, and then written them done. I read everything I could get my hands on as a child (no much has changed, I am just a little more picky now), and always had a head full of people who weren’t real. I would be a writer even if it was illegal, even if I never get published, even if a terrible accident severs both of my hands and I had to learn how to type with my feet. And at the heart of every book I am writing, thinking about writing, or have an idea for is something that matters to me, some theory, or issues, or thought. The book IS about the characters (I am a character driven writer, btw, so definitely about the characters), and the plot, and setting, of course, but it’s also about something else, some question or answer or subject that I need to know about, or experience.

If you’re looking at me suspiciously, that theme crap never sat well with you, and you think it’s pretentious, think about it again, why are you bothering? What about this book interests you?

Is it the character? Do you just love your rouge-with-a-heart-of-gold Scud who doesn’t take crap from anyone?

Is it the setting? Can you see the rolling fields of Provence, and taste the wine from the vineyards? Have you create a world so real every time you take a vacation, a small longing settles in your chest that you can’t go there?

Is it the plot? Do you just squirm, thinking about how plain TERRIBLE it would be if that happened to you or someone else? Can you not wait to see how the characters claw their way out of this predicament?

I would wage a bet that what you love about your book is very close to what you feel is your “truth”. And if you stall out on something, go back to what made you fall in love in the first place.

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