(NaNoWriMo cheerleading post for November 11 – comment on this post if you would like me to address a specific topic)
Everyone in publishing will give you advice on how to present yourself, market yourself, position yourself, and put yourself forward, as if you, your writing, and your ideas were products on sale. In our consumer-oriented, marketing-driven, entrepreneurial striving, it’s easy to lose track of yourself while you’re at it.
If you don’t have any central truth in your writing, though, all you’re selling is a shell. Shell-games can be creative and lucrative, and they require dexterity, but they are fundamentally dishonest.
If you are spending this much of your life on writing, you owe it to yourself and to your readers to be honest.
Tell the truth.
Honesty is what makes writing good and gives writing life. We will forgive writers their flaws if we can sense something real at the heart of what they’re saying.
Some readers won’t like what you have to say. My uncle, for instance, loathed my first book. That reaction can feel personal–because it is. It’s a rejection of your take on what belongs in a story.
Here’s the trick to being honest, though: You can’t help it. Every turn in your plot, every character you build, even the genre you choose, will be a reflection of who you are and everything you have experienced up to now. Whether you’re writing memoir, poetry, how-to, or fiction, you see the world through your own perspective.
As you’re writing, then, if you find that something rings false to you, stop and ask why.
For instance, if I tried to write a passionate scene between lovers that wasn’t awkward and slapstick, I would get bored part way through. If the earth seems to move when my lovers get together, it is because the frame of the bed is slowly collapsing underneath them, or because a construction worker is digging at the foundations of the house with a backhoe. I can’t write unbridled passion without feeling dumb.
The same goes for fight scenes. In my experience (and I practice a combat sport), victory in a one-to-one fight means not losing my balance, not swiping at the air, not getting distracted by stray thoughts, and not failing. Scrapping. Scrambling. My fight scenes are going to have someone tripping and stepping on a dog’s tail, or missing a punch and hitting a teakettle instead.
But that’s my experience. Yours is different. You don’t have to have direct experience of what you’re describing, though. If you have ever been in an argument, you know what it’s like (for you) to fight hand-to-hand. That’s your experience. Be true to it.
So don’t just go through the motions. Avoid formulaic writing (even if you’re going for word count today). Put something real in what you write. Be honest.
When you’re finished the book, then you can worry about marketing. But you’ll have something worth marketing. The awful truth is that most people won’t love your book, whether it’s good or not, whether it sells or not, whether you’re honest or not. But you’re a writer. Writers write. You might as well tell the truth while you’re at it.
Tomorrow: Strong emotions