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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Are You Disturbed? Are You Scared? You Should Be!

"Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open."  ~  Natalie Goldberg

Word count for current WIP:  9,867 (Not counting typed out plotting and some dialogue.)
Currently erupting from my playlist:  National Anthem by Lana Del Rey
What I'm drinking: A very large coffee. (I'm really tired today.)

I have the above quote on my vision board. I have several quotes that inspire me on that board. It's hung up right next to my desk. I also have a picture of Ernest Hemingway with his quote, "The first draft of anything is shit." It's framed and on my desk along with some family photos. Whenever I get the urge to stop free writing and over edit myself during the first go 'round, I glance up at him and he gives me his, "It's crap... and it's OK!" look. Then, I keep plugging away.

As I've begun my new novel, I've pondered Ms. Goldberg's words. I've always written from a safe place, I guess. That was the main reason why my first novel didn't get repped. I rewrote it twice for the agent. But, at the end of the day, I just played things way too cautiously. (I don't mean gratuitous stuff. I mean that I didn't go deep enough. I didn't go enough into the dark, scary places that my character needed to go within his soul to grow and find resolution.) I didn't split open and pour my innards out onto the page. And, I've come to the conclusion that because of that, I really didn't tell his whole story. Therefore, it didn't work.

To tell a story and to tell it well means to tell the secret things of the heart and mind. Not only show the struggle, but to be in the struggle along with the character. Readers must invest in the gamble. It has to hit them in the gut so hard, that they lose their breathe. The inner struggles of our characters must be so deep, so transparent, so authentic, that when they grieve we grieve. When they find victory, we celebrate with them. When they are broken, a little piece of ourselves breaks with them.

That's what makes them memorable. That's what makes them real.

Truly feeling what your characters are feeling can be overwhelming at times. But, that is the sweet spot. I'm learning through this process, how to pour myself out. A scene I wrote, night before last, left me emotional and spent. And, that's OK. It should. If I didn't feel that way, how could I expect my readers to?

Inner conflict is crucial. It's human. And, building deep inner conflict within our characters is key. We have to go to those places that scare us, that disturb us, that frighten us. That's the only place where redemption can come... from a place of great need. A need to understand, heal, grow, and restore. It's powerful. It's real.

As writers, must take the plunge in to the deep end. We have to take this journey with our characters. We have to feel so they can, in turn, feel. Then, and only then, will our readers feel as well.

Baring our soul is a scary proposition. And, for some of you, it may not even be an issue. But, for me it was. I grew up hiding a lot of my feelings and emotions which, in turn, shaped who I was at a certain level as a writer. Writing raw emotional scenes were disturbing to me. Not to mention the writing of the scenes that caused the emotional responses of my characters. To get in touch with such deep emotions can be scary. It's makes us feel vulnerable as we chip away at the hard outer exterior and expose our fleshy weaknesses, exposing our human frailty and flaws. But, that is what makes us human. That's what will make our characters human.

One of my all time favorite movies is, "Out of Africa." In it is a beautiful line when Denys comes to visit Karen after her rummage sale, and is preparing to leave Africa forever. (I will paraphrase as I'm not sure I will have it totally correct.) Karen tells him how she tortures herself in the bad times by remembering the good times. Then she says, "And, when I'm sure that I can't take it anymore, I go one step further... will you help me?" And, takes him by the hand and pulls him out to dance with her among her picked over items that remain on her lawn.


I cry, every time. But, that's how we need to be as a writer. As an amazing and memorable writer. When our characters have been taken by us to the deepest crevices of the pit of life, we need to go down there with a shovel and dig that pit just a little deeper.

I'm determined to stretch myself to uncomfortable lengths to tell my next story. How about you?

If you got anything out of this, I would be so happy to hear about it. Let me know where you're at in your writing endeavors.



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