Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tortured Souls

Sometimes I wonder if we writers are simply a collection of tortured souls agonizing to get our stories out. It seems to me that writers, the really good ones anyway, are able to tap into raw emotions that seem to transmit effortlessly to the page. Of course, those of us endeavoring to do just this know how difficult it is to not only harness this emotion but find words to portray it.

I believe everyone has a story within. Everyone has at some time or another felt so deeply that their little pinky toe radiates the feeling. But it is the courage to share these feelings - the sorrow, the embarrassment, the tenderness - that sets a great writer apart from a mediocre one. And it is precisely this courage that I continue to strive for with each sentence that I write. And I find that it is those emotions that scare you to death are the ones that you need to put on paper. It is the courageous writing that stuns its readers into voracious consumption.

We always hear: write what you know. Well, it makes sense then that to successfully transmit deep emotion - whether it be joy, love, fear, worry, agony - the writer needs to relive it in a way. The challenge is to relive it while remaining focused enough not to be lost in it: to hover on the brink of insanity it seems. We need to kind of fade in and out of a deep emotional consciousness so that we can get the words on the page before the feeling is lost. For me, this is the hardest part of writing. I could write endlessly about a character and about her trials and tribulations or I can feel intensely. But to infuse a one dimensional being with three dimensional emotion that allows her to come alive for everyone who reads it is the true test of a successful novel.

What it wouldn't mean to me to have someone read my novel and cry when my character does - then I'd know it was a job well done. But occasionally when I am writing, I know that I am on the verge of something great, something unique and important, but I just can't get there. The intensity is missing.

What do you do when the emotion just isn't there? Have you ever had the courage to write about something that terrifies you?


  1. That's true in any art form. The best songs, paintings, sculptures, movies all make us think and feel.

    I've always wanted to write a novel but don't know where to start. Congratulations and good luck!

  2. Sometimes it's good to get away, like visit a new country, and when you come back, you feel excited again. At least that's what works for me. Very true what you say. All great writing has to be authentic.

  3. Josie,

    To hear you say that you struggle to put words to print is oddly encouraging to an absolute amateur like myself. I know that must seem like a strange thing to say but let me explain. My little blog that wishes it could is my first step in exploring my interest in writing. It scared the crap out of my to think that other people might actually read what I write. What if I don't have any talent? What if I am not articulate enough to be a writer? So, to see that an obviously talented writer could have the same sorts of struggles with this art, and I do think it is an art, only validates that it is not easy even for the best of writers to always be at the top of their game. Keep at it and thank you for being an inspiration to the aspiring scribblers.

  4. I think it also comes down to you love your characters so so much and you want to make other people see them the way you do. It's very hard.

  5. I'm a "write what you feel" guy...but I observe people in everyday life and think about their actions, feelings, interactions and such.
    Most of my work is memoir and other prose, but I agree with you that to make a one dimensional character become three dimensional is a true test of a writer. I'm drafting a memoir with two main characters; myself and my mother. I haven't ever had a relationship with this woman, and only scattered, bad memories. I think it's much in line with what you speak in, how to I make this woman real within the pages? Quite a task! Anyhow, just found your blog, and enjoying it immensely!