Do you find when you sit down to write that the part of you that wants to please stops you from writing things that would shock Aunt Mary, or make your snarky cousin Jim sneer? Are the people in your life also in your head when you’re wringing out a tale?
It’s hard not to think of the people who will eventually read your work and either sigh with satisfaction over the beautiful way you turn a phrase, or be annoyed to find your name on the front cover of a novel that retails for $24.99.
Then again, sometimes the things that stay our writing hands are remembrances of our high school English teachers making us recite the rules over and over, and slashing away at our inexperienced and heart-felt creativity with red pens. Or maybe the monsters lurking in our minds come from some article we read by some grammarian who admonished us that there is never, ever, any reason whatsoever to use the word “and” at the beginning of a sentence. The opinions of others, the prejudices of others,the sensibilities of others, clamp down on the lids of our creative toy boxes, and leave us staring at the blank page with enormous headaches in our eyes.
We have to put the nay-sayers out of our heads when we write. We need to become immersed in the world we’re creating as well as the thoughts and feelings of the “people” who live there because we birthed them from our own souls. Our characters will not always be people our Aunt Tiz would approve of—but that’s life, isn’t it? If we want to bring the world something fine, it needs to flow from our own unique spirits, and not be a carbon copy of something we read that flowed from someone else’s spirit…or their blackboard…or their narrow, uninterested, desert of a mind. We should write, write, write, always knowing we can go back later and make changes, delete things, add things. But we should delete and add because we see this will bring the work closer to perfect…not because we are trying to please someone else.
But lest someone misunderstand and think I’m saying that writers should write anything at any time with no regard to anyone else, let me say this: we MUST weigh the cost of Truth. Frank McCourt did not write Angela’s Ashes until his mother was dead, because some of the history he was to recount would have humiliated her in ways you would understand if you read that amazing, gritty, beautiful work. Mr. McCourt, therefore, saw his first novel published as he was turning seventy…because he cared about his mother’s feelings—and that was a good thing. “This is a small hymn to the exaltation of women,” Mr. McCourt wrote in the acknowledgements of that book.
Write about your truth: how remembering the Christmas you were six still makes your throat tight with sorrow. How you feel you’ve wasted your life on things you were positively sure were things that would make your life worth living. How a tragedy caused you to feel “unmade” and how you’re pretty sure you’ve lost your faith.
And don’t be afraid to write about the truth of beauty. Truth is not all in the devastations, the soul-tearing abandonments. Remember there is truth in love, in friendship, in doing good to others, in opening your arms and giving without counting the cost, in discovering that the human heart is softened toward others in tragedy. Those truths are worth writing about too, and are just as needed in this world.
Whatever you write about, write it the way you write it—not in the way you think you should write it after reading another article entitled How to Write; not in the way you think your brother would want you to write it, or in a way that you hope will alleviate criticism from others. Write it from the deepest part of yourself, from the place that is YOU. And when you do that, you are working your own therapy, you are writing REAL, and you are opening the eyes of others to a perspective they might never have considered.
photo taken by Dean Akin of Buttermilk Falls in Schaghticoke, NY (do not use except by permission)