Right (Write) To the Heart

This is the next in my series of blog posts speaking to craft. Today, I’ll take a holistic approach to the work.

Maybe you’re writing your first (or third, or sixth) book. Maybe you’re still a beginner, hoping to write a book one day. You have the spark of an idea: a character, a concept, a paragraph. You’re nervous and anxious, because you’re sure that you don’t have what it takes to get it right when you’re translating this spark from your head to the page.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the years since I began pursuing this writing thing for real, it’s that there’s no one right way to write a book. But…there is one thing that will help you to write closer to your vision, and even feel satisfied along the way.

I want to encourage you to write from your heart, and write to the heart of the matter.

Find Your Emotional Driver

My first published book is a self-help nonfiction guide for kids. It rose out of my own frustrated attempts to help my learning-challenged son navigate middle school.

My first published novel is historical fiction about a girl trying to find her missing mother while living in (then still-wild) Yellowstone National Park. I wrote it while trying to cope with the sudden unexpected death of my own mother while visiting Yellowstone almost every summer with my son.

Both of these books rose from a deep emotional well. I wanted my son to succeed, so I researched and wrote a book that would help not only him but the many, many kids who struggle with organization and study skills. I wanted to reconnect with my lost mother, so I wrote a book about a teen girl who found her lost mother within herself. Though I wasn’t aware of these emotional drivers while I was writing, it is now clear to me that the deeply personal basis from which I was writing contributed to the books’ acceptance and success.

And even if they had never been published, they were both deeply satisfying for me to write.

All this to say: look at your current project, step back, and ask yourself what your emotional connection is to the work you’re contemplating or writing.

An Exercise

One exercise that might help take you to this deeper emotional level in your work is to sit quietly, eyes closed, take a few slow, deep breaths, and ask yourself the following:

  • What am I most anxious that the protagonist of my story should experience?
  • What am I most anxious that the protagonist of my story not experience?
  • In what way am I most like my protagonist?
  • What would I say, if I could go back in time, to my twelve-year-old self?
  • What would I say, if I could, to my twelve-year-old protagonist?

Connecting to Your Reader

These questions may spark some strong emotions in you. If they do, draw from that well. Put those feelings into your work. Let your character experience both the pain and the joy that you’ve uncovered.

Make that emotional connection between you and your work, whether it’s nonfiction self-help or historical fiction or fantasy or comedy… Your reader will make the emotional connection, too, and will thank you for putting words to something they may not be able to express.

For that’s the entire purpose of writing: making connections between you, the writer, and the reader you reach.

For much more on this topic I recommend Donald Maass’s The Emotional Craft of Fiction.

Comments? Questions?