Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Secret No One Knows

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: Rust by Zakk Wlyde

Today I had an interesting conversation with a writer friend of mine. We talked about how we both have writing that we don’t want anyone to see. Period. Mostly scenes, or bits of writing scribbles, that we would just absolutely die if someone else read it. Some of this is just because it’s old writing and therefore embarrassing by nature, but for me at least (since I obviously haven’t read her secret stuff) these scenes are about things I was feeling or situations I explored that I didn’t want anyone else to know about. Some of the scenes aren’t even embarrassing by nature, but the act of writing out my personal feelings involved made me want to hide it away. All of these scenes contain characters and sometimes conflict, and one thing or another about the scene I found very personal to write about, and so hide them away.

I never really thought much about these private scribblings, but as I reflect on it now, I realize it’s helped me as a writer to get these feelings on paper. It helped in the therapeutic sense, of course, even though I never wrote from the “I feel” or “I think” way—it was always about other characters going through a similar situation I experienced. It also helped me develop my writing voice, because I was writing just for me, just so I could write about what was on my mind. Writing like this translated over well into my novels, because it’s easier now to write the tough scenes.

Writing like that also helped me practice putting the deeper core of my feelings and emotions to the page, so now I can write emotionally charged scene much easier.

It’s a good trick too, to tell yourself what you are writing never has to be seen by other people. I think it’s like training wheels that you may need in the beginning, and even from time to time in your life, to help you write honestly, without pulling your punches.

For example, I have a book idea, that I know will be a book someday, but for some reason it feels really personal. There’s no plot involved, the characters don’t resemble me in the least, but SOMEthing about this book makes me want to hide it away, and scribble it in the dark, like Fluffykins the cat feels the need to give birth to her kittens in the most secret, small place in your apartment. The book is a lot darker than I usually write about, so I think that’s part of it, and there’s a core of raw emotional pain for both of the characters centered in the book, so that’s probably another reason as well.

For whatever reason, it feels almost too personal, so naturally, I want to hide it away. So I trick myself. I tell myself I will never have to show anyone this book. When I sit down to flesh it out and work on it, I never ever have to let anyone know about it. I haven’t had to trick myself into telling the truth in a while, but I might have to do that when it comes time to write this book. That’s okay though, whatever gets the story told.

It’s my humble opinion that as an author, you need to get used to telling on yourself. That’s okay, I have made my peace with that a while ago. But sometimes an idea will stir that defensive mechanism, and you will have to quash it to get the story told. Having a way around your own defenses comes in handy, as well as a way of getting your feelings out in the most honest fashion possible. It makes for some excellent writing, let me tell you.

When I say honest, by the way, I mean don’t sugar coat the truth. Let’s say your character is a thief. You might want to sugar coat the truth, and say he’s only stealing to feed his family. That might be. But maybe, your character loves stealing things too, just for the sake of it. He loves feels smarter and more powerful that the merchants that have trampled on him his entire life. I have read stories that have glossed over the bad actions of their characters, because they were afraid the reader wouldn’t like a thief.

Judging by the reaction that Hannibal Lector gets, readers will put up with various degrees of villainy, if the character is real enough. So tell the truth. Write from the heart, the way the character is really feeling, petty jealousies and moments of greatest shame and times of bliss alike.

You start writing from the heart by writing from your own heart.

What about you guys? Am I the only one with secret scribbles? Times where the writing feels a little too personal, for no apparent reason? What do you do to make sure you stay the course?

1 comment:

  1. I always feel like an emotional exhibitionist when I write scenes that mimic my own experiences. However, I like honest writing too much to stop, and I tend to be more authentic if I've lived what the character is living. Thanks for a great post! I have an award for you at my blog.