Recently I started and abandoned a novel by a popular British (male) author. It was a well-plotted and witty story. But it was un-finishable and, afterward, un-memorable.
The story and the plot eclipsed the author. In fact, the entire thing lacked an author’s there-ness.
Don’t get me wrong. I don't want the author bleeding into the words or allover the page. I don't like tell-all memoirs, and I hate those manipulative, tear-jerker fictions that are really just literary gum-ball machines: Insert money. Get emotions.
Equally, I don’t shy away from stories about tough things. In fact, some of the world’s best writing has emerged from repressive regimes (A Thousand Splendid Suns) or bloody world wars (Pat Barker’s fabulous World War I novels) or genocidal atrocities (Elie Weisel).
As a leisure reader, I want more than a story. I want more than a who-dunnit or a boy-meets-girl. I want to sense that, behind these pages, there is a deep, thoughtful writer, a writer I can respect in the morning.
How to convey this depth, this author's personality without the author him or herself actually barging into his or her own narratives?
As writers, this is one of the high-wire feats, the blundering, bashful dance between writer, narrator, story and reader.
There are writers whose entire careers I’ve followed. In retrospect, I’ve committed to that long-term relationship because I respect these writers’ minds. More, their work lets me glimpse their fine minds.
Writers are supposed to be introspective, but we live in as wired and as frenetic a world as anyone else. So it’s easy to become invisible to ourselves. It’s easy to keep staring in the public and publishing mirror until we behold only the dividends while we forget our own deep hearts.
Confession time: I’ve done it. I’ve written for money or admiration or just to seem clever. I’ve let myself get so busy that I just keep marching forward without looking inward. I shush that little voice inside that whispers, “But is this really you? Is this what you really want?”
When this happens, it’s time to pick up my writer’s journal. No, not a blog or an e-mail or an online posting--though these are wonderful ways to create a dialogue with a thousand splendid readers.
Journaling is a key wellness tool. It's also how we have a pen-and-paper dialog with ourselves.
I’ve kept a personal journal for most of my life. Whether I’m in complete writer’s block or stuck in a plotting cul-de-sac, or just plain confused about life in general, my personal journal is where I’ll re-find me.
Inevitably, finding or re-finding myself lets me reclaim the words.