One of the best compliments ever given to me about my writing also served as a great check to me. My former professor, the ridiculously intelligent Robert Olmstead told me, “You know how to write well. You just need to figure out what to say.”
First of all, it took all my decorum not to break out into a happy dance right then and there, ala Elaine from Seinfeld.
Bob’s one of those people who doesn’t give praise lightly, so when he does, you know he means it (I love those people). But afterwards, it really made me think: What do I want to say?
Strong emotions, due to reasons I won’t go into on this blog, are something of a conundrum for me: I am very susceptible to them and because of that I fear them. When I am hit with strong emotion, I let them take over. Let’s be honest, I don’t use my brain very much when calm and when taken over by emotion, I lose what little sense I possess. So, for the past year and a half, I’ve been writing interesting, yet dry stories.
I read an article five or six months ago and I can’t remember where, but it basically said MFA programs are killing literature. Obviously, I don’t agree with that, but the author asserted that literary journals are being inundated with tons of well-written, but emotionally empty stories.
I realized I was one of those authors.
So what did I do? I swallowed my fear, pulled out my laptop, and threw my heart into my stories.
And let me tell you: IT HURTS. And it’s invigorating. When my protags are in pain, I throw all of my pain into the writing. When they’re happy, I find myself grinning from ear to ear. The feedback from my writing group has been unanimous: my stories are stronger, more interesting, more captivating. They are finally starting to connect with my chars and care about them.
We want our readers to cry with our characters. But first, we the writers need to cry with them (the chars… maybe the readers, too.)
Just don’t forget the tissue.