Hello My Friend and Welcome.
Today’s post is our monthly installment in the Christian Writer’s Blog Chain. December’s topic is Gifts of the Heart…an appropriate one for the Christmas season. As usual, our focus will be on the writing life.
Isn’t any story worth its salt truly a gift from the heart, the author’s heart?
WORKING WITHOUT A NET
I remember reading about a famous comedian pouring himself a stiff drink before going on stage. Someone noticed and gave him a judgmental glance. He turned to them and said, “You don’t think I’m going to go out there alone, do you?”
The era of the hard-drinking writer has, thankfully, come and gone. There was a time, however, when the drunk writer was almost considered de rigueur. The prevailing myth of the time said the rigor of writing involved such angst and suffering that an author could only execute his or her craft when fortified by regular doses of stiff drink. In his book The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear, Ralph Keyes never goes so far as to prescribe alcohol, but he does validate the wear and tear on a writer’s psyche.
Why should that be?
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW
We’ve all heard the old saw, “Write what you know.” We can take that admonition as literally as we choose. Insider information and personal experience can be a valuable tool for a writer. For instance, Nicholas Sparks lives in New Bern, NC and most of his novels are set along the southeastern Atlantic coast. John Grisham practiced law for a number of years and writes legal thrillers. Stephen King, a New Englander, often places his characters in Maine or greater New England. Similarly, I strove to develop a strong sense of place in both of my commercial novels. LOST is set on the Southern Oregon Coast where I have lived for many years. Much of PROMISES takes place in Appalachian Kentucky, a place where I worked and traveled as a young man.
Does this mean the dictum write what you know means every story must be set in a town remarkably similar to the one in which you reside? Does every main character have to have the same day job you do? Of course not! We write what we know by reaching inside ourselves and tapping into universal feelings, yearnings and emotions that define the human condition.
This is why Keyes talks about transcending fear. It can be a scary thing to tap into all the stuff, much of it negative, that we keep tucked away inside us…the unrequited love, the unrealized hopes and dreams, those embarrassing moments, the gaffs and goof-ups. Robert Frost said, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Paul Gallico, author of the Poseiden Adventure, put it more caustically, “It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. If you do not believe in the characters or the story you are doing at that moment with all your mind, strength, and will, if you don’t feel joy and excitement while writing it, then you’re wasting good white paper…”
In real life our sixth sense usually tells us when someone’s faking it. Guess what? If a writer wants to touch his/her reader, the situations, emotions and feelings, the responses and reactions have to be honest…true. Why? A reader can tell when you’re faking it. So the bottom line is, honesty is not only the best policy; it’s the only policy. An Indian storyteller clearly understood this when he told his audience, “I do not know if this happened, but the story is true.”
MAKING A VOW
Okay, writers, hand on your heart. Let’s agree here and now to only write true stories. No Deus ex Machina, pointless plots, meandering dialog, meaningless scenes, and predictable endings. In other words, no tepid fiction allowed. By committing to dig deeper and write only true stories, we’ve come back to this month’s theme. After all, isn’t any story worth its salt truly a gift from the heart, the author’s heart?
Until next time, we wish you Peace and Blessings.