Tuesday, December 20, 2011


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?

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?

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.”

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.


Suzette said...

Wow, that was a really thought provoking entry. My book has so many different characters from so many different places, I was a little scared to make them because I didn't really know how a person from that area behaved or spoke. But I agree with the sentiment that we have to believe in ourselves when we write. I was so discouraged writing the sequel, the story was coming out bland. When I realized that I had to believe in myself, the words just flowed and my three month writers block was gone for good. I enjoyed reading this post, thanks for sharing!

Christine Henderson said...

I love to write but I tend to get caught up in being concerned with the mechanics. Am I using too many of the same words? Are there too many "that" or "it" uses or "are" verbs? How do I tell instead of only showing?

Still I write and then re-write.

E. G. Lewis said...

Don't we all. I love James Michener's quote, "I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter."

Mike said...

The courage test for me is being willing to have others look at my writing without feeling defensive.

Tracy Krauss said...

Thanks Edward for such a thought provoking post. You hit the nail squarely on the head. Writers must write from the heart. Have a blessed Christmas season, too.

tracibonney said...

Terrific post, Edward. Writing my first novel and its sequel hasn't been easy because I've been tapping into some very personal experiences, even though I'm heavily fictionalizing them. Your words here reassure me I'm on the right track with that.

-Traci B

Debra Ann Elliott said...

Thanks for sharing these words

Deborah K. Anderson said...

Excellent post. Confirms what I've felt all along.

Terrie said...

Thank you Edward for refocusing our attention back to the craft. We are so inundated with eye-candy (t.v. movies, etc.) we forget how to focus on the story telling which plays out in the mind. "Write what you know" is the essential truth for any writer, which early on plagued me because of my limited experiences. I truly began to build full stories after more education in the school of hard knocks- although I am not as versed in many of life's tragedies,as others, I can relate, thus write a heart known story.

Merry Christmas

From Carols Quill said...

What? No meandering dialog? Oh, alright!

Thank you for this delightful and encouraging post. The "net" I work with is to pray before (and during) my writing time. Best net ever!

chris said...

good thoughts E.G. - write what you know... excellent advice. Thanks and Merry Christmas to you :)

dr_writer said...

What? The drunken writer is out now? (Hemingway would've shaken his head in sad disapproval.)

Write what you know . . . write from the heart . . . write what is true. Three of the best advisory phrases a writer could hope to carry around in their back pocket when they're plying their craft. Great post, Edward.

Cindee Snider Re said...

I do think "any story worth its salt [is] truly a gift from the heart." Thank you for an excellent post and a belated Merry Christmas from this writer's heart to yours!