Some days I find myself writing from the wrong place.
I write from my wallet. I write from my insecurity. I write from my anger. Or my pride.
These are not the days I produce my best work. In fact, the work on these days is often useless. The tone is off, the language is vapid or dense, and the content is nothing but word count. I can tell that my heart’s not in it. It wreaks of falsehood.
While trying to procure a 9-5 gig, I’ve basically lived life as I would as a full time writer. I’ve failed plenty, but I’ve also developed a few useful habits. If I had the chance to support my wife and me through the written word, I think I am capable. I would love to do so. But the writing has to be honest. When it isn’t, it’s lousy; there’s no getting around that fact. If I’m not writing from the right place, I’m heading in the wrong direction.
I’ve found three “sweet spots” from which my best work comes, and I would encourage you to do the same. See below:
Write from your Head.
There’s an adage that goes “write what you know.” I agree. I have tried to write what I have no business writing and in doing so have churned some pretty lumpy butter (case in point). This is not to say you can’t write about a place you’ve never been or person you’ve never met, but you need to write from what you know about that place or person. If you want to write about London, and you can’t visit there or don’t know a thing about it, then go there in your mind. Go there through a book. Go there in photos. Go there through film. Then develop an informed construct of it and take the reader there. I believe that a good writer ultimately takes their readers to the writer’s version of a given place anyway, but having some knowledge about that place (or era, or person) is necessary to give the reader a vivid and useful experience. Fill your head with that noun, and then embellish it to the nines when sharing it with your readers. Let them know what you know.
Write from your Heart
What’s your passion? What moves you? Makes you cry? Makes you care? Write about those things or, at least, write what affects them. Another old adage is “the writer’s job is to move the reader, beginning with him/herself”. That’s the rub, folks. That’s actually the point at which I found myself confident in sending out reader copies of Stronghold. Once I was tense where I designed the book to be tense, renewed when I intended the book to renew, and invested from front to back, I knew I was ready to hand over the car keys. Now granted, I wrote the thing and I may have been filling in a gap or two that could have tripped the average beta reader, but I know that from a base level, from prologue to epilogue, I put myself through the experience that I want readers to have with the book. I know from whence that journey came–and it was not from the wallet or my insecurity.
Write from your Gut
If you’ve been doing this for any amount of time, you know what works when you read it back to yourself. Out Loud. When it counts. Please do this with your work. Read it aloud like you would to a crowd whose paid $100 bucks a head to hear you. If it’s tough to read, difficult to say, or confusing, fix it. Your ability to do this is a sense you develop, not unlike the manner in which a basketball player shoots the ball with accuracy and grace. Oh, and if you’re just beginning, don’t worry, once you digest a metric ton of content and start to create your own prose, your gut will get a feeling for what works. Trust this. You may think the visual you’ve painted in words is artistic and beautiful and poignant, but if your gut tells you that 10 out of 10 readers who aren’t your mom are going to laugh at it, trust that sense. Your gut is saving you from a later time when someone will tell you they hated that description and your gut is going to wrench upon itself with embarrassment. Your gut does not want this, and it will save you from yourself and these comments more than you can imagine. On the flip, if you’re gut tells you something is good, you can count on it and fight for it. Now, that doesn’t mean every sentence or idea; in fact, it oftentimes means one sentence in a chapter, that one sentence that makes you stop and go, “Yeah, that’s me right there. And it’s good. I wrote that. I want more.” Note: If you are not getting a few of these in your writing project, get to revising. You need them. You need the sentences or ideas that strike you, the author, as new, perfect, and essential every time you stumble on them during your rewrites. These moments serve as your “gut check”. They say to you, “Hey, you with the neurosis, you aren’t as bad as you think. You got something here. Keep at it.” When your gut tells you that, you know you’ve got the goods.
So, what are you waiting for? Get writing (from the right places, that is).
Oh, and as always, thanks for reading,
Enjoy what you are reading??? Let’s connect. I'm currently on Instagram, Letterboxd, Flickr, Twitter, always as CJstunkard.