Hey, Writerly Women. Can I just say how delighted I am that our community here is coming together so beautifully? You're encouraging each other, celebrating victories, hopping onto your fellow writers' blogs and websites. Writing is such an isolating art most of the time, and the fact that you're participating in a group which recognizes that and comes in with support for that loneliness is, to me, a God thing. So welcome, our two latest additions: HANNAH and NATASHA -- both young, awesome fiction authors I'm honored to work with.
SO, how's the journaling going? I'm personally digging the whole spiral journaling thing. If you haven't read last week's post you might want to go there, because we'll be referring to that practice from time to time in the weeks to come. I'd still love to have pictures of your journals, and do feel free to comment about what your personal writing is showing you any time.
That, of course, is part of our 40 days of going deeper into ourselves in order to go deeper in our writing. Good books have been written about creating richer characters and more complex stories. My favorite of those is Donald Maass's The Emotional Craft of Fiction. I not only recommend it to my clients but I use it myself. I could just tell you to go buy it and end this post right here, seeing how "The Don" -- as he's referred to by those who have studied under him -- poses many questions that encourage writers to search their own souls before they search those of their characters. In fact, do check it out if you haven't already.
But I'd like to approach this in a little bit different way -- from my own experience, which is basically what we all work from, right? (I'm trying not to be narcissistic here!). At the time I wrote the book you see above (with the world's longest title!) Everybody Tells Me To Be Myself, But I Don't Know Who I Am, I realized I wasn't saying anything I hadn't said before in the fiction I'd written, both for tweens and their grown-ups. Everything I'd written up to that point was about authenticity. Didn't matter if it was a tween fiction series, a set of novels for teens, a novel trilogy targeted to adult women, non-fiction books for all of those age groups ... even my blogs and Facebook posts ... they were all centered around the theme of being one's true self. I started pondering whether I should come up with something new. How much fruit could actually still be on that tree?
And then our priest (I'm Episcopalian) preached a sermon in which she said that it's quite true that every pastor, preacher, priest or what-have-you has only one sermon that he or she preaches over and over in some way. After explaining what hers was -- and son of a gun, she was right! -- she said (and this is one of my favorite phrases now): "The brush stroke I'm going to add to that canvas today is_____"
I have to admit I didn't hear much of the rest of that sermon (I'd heard it before obviously!) because I couldn't get that out of my mind. That was what I was doing as a writer. I only had one book in me. I just kept writing it in different ways and -- and this is the important part -- adding a new brush stroke every time.
That didn't just serve as a way to "get me off the hook". It actually forced me to go deeper with that same theme. If I was going to have new brush strokes to add, I myself needed to become more and more authentic, getting down to those false places where it can actually be painful to scrape junk out and make space for what's real. I quickly learned that it was not for the faint of heart.
Writing isn't, unless we're putting out formula romances or cozy mysteries (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, okay?). If we want to write with meaning, with passion, with power we pretty much have to open a vein. But before we get out the scalpels, we need to know just what that canvas is.
What is that theme your characters keep pulling you back to?
What is the recurring issue in your life that seems to be taking years to resolve?
What is common to the novels you read over and over, the films you'll watch repeatedly, the non-fiction books that continue to speak to you?
What do you admire in the people you respect? What do you want to emulate?
Those are just a few of the questions that will help you discover the grand painting your life's work is creating. The answer to them will not only deepen your writing ... it will deepen you. If I hadn't written as much as I did from age 30 to age 62 (when I began to divide my writing time with mentoring) I wouldn't be the same person I am today. I'm not "there" yet. Seriously, we're not done 'til we're dead, are we? But I would not be as far along as I am if not for creating Lily and Sophie and Lucy and the Mean Girls and Sullivan Crisp and the 'Nama Beach High crowd and the Flagpole Girls and all the other characters who showed up on the page. They added brush stroke after brush stroke, and yet my new characters in my work-in-progress have found even more places on the canvas that need filling in with color and texture and perhaps some new styling.
You see what we're doing here, don't you? We're looking at not just one book out of you. We're talking about a body of work, each project taking us deeper. THAT right there is why it's so important to know, or at least have the whisper of an idea, what our life/writing theme is. Just one word -- that's all you need.
Really, really, really this doesn't mean you're "stuck" with only one thing to write about. The possibilities for what you do with that if you're true to yourself are virtually endless. It's also guaranteed that it will evolve and grow as you do. So don't think of this as a decision you have to make for the rest of your life, but as an awesome discovery that will carry you on its creative wings for years to come.
Will you tell us what your WORD is? Or if you don't know yet, will you describe how you're playing with ideas until the solid one comes to you? We would love to hear. This is big stuff. Who doesn't need the support of other artists who say, "Yes. You've got this. Get the brushes ready."
Blessings on your delicious seeking,