My friend and fellow author, Kieran York, posted a quote the other day that touched a chord with me.
“Literature is a place for generosity and affection and hunger for equals—not a prizefight ring. We are increased, confirmed in our medium, roused to do our best, by every good writer, every fine achievement.” Tillie Olsen, Silences (1978)
This quote helped to free me from the writer’s funk that I’ve been in lately. I’ve been working on a manuscript that feels like swimming in quick sand. I’ve been trying to slog through it because it concerns topics that I think are important to write about, and that would be well received by readers. Both are good reasons to write, but not enough to be able to reach deep into that well from which the best writing comes. The well is that spring of ideas in the soul that one touches only by pulling back the layers of misplaced motives and perceived expectations.
The reality is that we’re all human and desire encouraging feedback that affirms us. For the author that often means positive reviews and maybe even a few awards. It feels good to receive to accolades. It motivates us to keep writing and lets us know that our writing makes a difference. There’s a huge danger, however, in allowing accolades to play any role at all in driving one’s motives to write. It allows the competitive side of our human nature to cloud the soul’s well from which our best writing comes. I liken it to what happens to lawyers who make winning or being the best their highest priority. They spend so much time looking over their shoulders at who is gaining on them that they fail to see what’s important in front of them. Eventually, they slam into a brick wall because trying to be the best rather than do one’s best is a recipe for personal failure on many levels. The worst of it is that it takes one’s eyes off of what’s really important, makes us into someone who we can’t recognize and ultimately corrupts “the system.”
The same can happen in the context of writing. I’ve been thinking so much about what I should, rather than what I want to write about that the view of my soul’s well has been clouded over. That’s why I’ve decided to put the manuscript about a wounded soldier coming home from war that I’ve been working on aside for now. The topic is too important for me to write about simply for sake of writing it. I’m not ready to do the subject justice. I hope that other authors who are ready to tackle the subject will do so sooner rather than later. If at some point the voices of the characters from My Soldier Too begin to whisper to me from the well of my soul for a sequel, I’ll dust the manuscript off and finish telling their story to the best of my ability. I owe it to myself, readers who have come to care about the characters in My Soldier Too, but most importantly the real wounded warriors for whom the story is dedicated.
Having put the manuscript aside, I woke up this morning ready to write a fresh new story with characters who I really like. It’s so fun to just write from my heart the best that I’m able to rather than try to create something that simply isn’t there or ready to be conceived. Trying to force it is bit like eating a tofu-dog when what I really want is a hotdog. When I take a bite of a tofu-dog I know in an instant that it’s contrived. I don’t like tofu-dogs, nor do I want to be one. What I want is to tell authentic stories from the well of my soul and to always improve my writing. A very awesome editor, Nann Dunne, told me that writing is a lifelong learning process. I absolutely agree. That’s why honest critical feedback is every bit as important as the positive. It’s how we learn and grown. I approach it from the stand point of having yet another opportunity to improve. I don’t want to be the best. I want to be my best. If I can achieve that, I will be happy and content to count myself among all the amazing authors who inspire us in so many ways with the stories they tell. Writing is equal parts soul and skill. Staying in touch with one’s soul and always improving on one’s skills are the keystones of good writing.
To all of you have encouraged, appreciated and helped me to become a better author through both positive and critical feedback, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’ve inspired me to keep writing. My second novel, Step into the Wind, will be available in early 2013 from Blue Feather Books.