04 November 2009

It Takes a Little Heart...

...and a whole lot of soul to write anything. An article, a poem, a novel. You can tell when an author has put all of himself into his work. It's there, lying on the page, a beating pulse that can be felt through each word.

Everywhere you turn, authors and editors, agents and "those who know" admonish us to write what we know, to find our voice, to pour ourselves into our stories. It's so obvious and yet so hard to do. Why?

I think I have an answer. If I'm wrong (or way out in left wouldn't be the first time that's happened!), please forgive me. I believe it's because we are conditioned to concern ourselves with what others think. The thought of rejection, the thought of "what if THEY don't like it", is enough to drive even the most talented artist into the underground.

I can remember being free. I remember as a child playing with abandon, writing stories that made sense to my five year old brain, stories where I could correctly spell "tyrannosaurus" but misspelled "island". I remember laughing, dreaming, scheming, telling jokes, making others laugh in class and choir practice.

Then something happened. I'm not sure if there's an actual date and time to it; I can look back and see several things that contributed. Something shifted and I was made to feel like my ideas were "wrong", "dumb", "punishable". Nothing horrible, mind you! I wasn't trying to sacrifice the neighbors goats or anything. Somewhere along the way, I lost the freedom to be myself and ever since then, I've been trapped behind a wall of "what ifs" and "no one will understand".

Art is subjective (at least that's what they told me). I've taken art classes as an adult and had "professionals" belittle my ideas and tell me they just don't "get it". I've watched people open their veins on stage, screen and page and marvel at their audacity, their bizarreness, their courage. Perhaps they never had that teacher put down their ideas. Perhaps they never were made to feel left out and betrayed. Or maybe...just maybe...they don't care.

What? Don't care? How callous! We're supposed to care. We (especially we women) are supposed to make everyone else comfortable, sacrificing our time, our dreams, our cares for those we love. Yes. And no. We are to put others first. We are to reach out and help. We are to go out of our way to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, minster to the hurting, lonely and sick. But how can we do these things if we don't take care of ourselves first? A sick nurse is certainly not someone you want caring for you when you're ill.

This care and concern, while a noble and righteous thing, gets misconstrued in our modern society. It seems we teeter to one of two ends: care so much we shun ourselves and sacrifice our very health and well being in order to become a saint (or worse, a martyr). Or we guard ourselves so fiercely, let no one in, and alienate everyone in order to protect number one. Where's the balance? Simple. It's right there, in the middle, where your heart is aching for you to reside.

When i look at my stories, I see fantastic beasts, imagined lands, strong characters with even stronger flaws. I see mystery and murder, fantasy and magic. Do I dare see a message that someone may need? That someone has been longing to discover?

Inside all of us is a voice that is wanting to be heard. We push it, shove it, water it down. Why? No one will get it. It's not "the right way". It's too bizarre, too "out there". Of course, there are technical rules we must follow, grammatical dos and don'ts, regulations to follow in order to submit a query and grasp the attention of the right agent. Beyond that, however, the door is wide open. There's no filter. We are the ones who put on the blinders, get out the sieve and pour our hearts into them, discarding what we deem "odd", "unimportant" or "not recognizable".

Get out a pen and paper. Yes, yes, you know, those poor, sacrificed trees and ink filled piece of plastic. What's that voice inside telling you? You know. The tiny voice that's been so pushed away, crowded out by overstimulation and self-deprecation. Write what it tells you. It may be a few words. It may be a torrent of adjectives and nouns, verbs and run on sentences. Don't edit, don't filter, just write. When you're finished, you can pick through. You could find that you just needed to let our some pent up emotions, worries, fears. Then again, you may find that story that you've been dying to tell has finally come free of it's tethers. If that's the case, don't put it back in the box. Let it roam free. Let it take wings and soar around and around, higher and higher. Don't be afraid of where it's going. Let it lead. Don't try and direct it like a child on the beach tries to harness a kite. Allow your feet to be lifted off the sand and give in to the wild, tempestuous wind that is your brilliance. Frightening? You betcha. Necessary? More than you know.


Kristen Torres-Toro said...

I like this! We should never be ashamed of imagination. Those who made us feel such a way deserve death by fire ants. :0) Beautiful, friend!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

you are so right. we're conditioned from the time we're babies to care what other people think. it starts so young...that whole "fitting in" thing. don't be different or against the main stream...b/c then people will talk about you. that sort of thing.

made me laugh with the properly spelled tyrannosaurus and misspelled island. :)

The Character Therapist

Jen Chandler said...

Thanks, Kristen.
Death by fire ants...hmmm, perhaps I shall use that in a future novel. Horrible thought! :)

Jeannie: Glad I could make you laugh. I found the report when my mom gave me a bunch of old school papers. It was something I wrote in Kindergarten!

Blondie said...

Thank you for the sweet comments honey. I am trying so hard to participate in National Novel Writing Month, having to write 50,000 words by the end of November. I really needed some inspiration so thanks for this wonderful post. Have a great Wednesday! Kori xoxo

Anne Marie said...

this is so true.......especially about what others think.........

since we are all connected, and live amongst each other, we truly do want the continuity that calms our heart, but it's when you are isolated amongst yourself sometimes that you see that to be alike is to be truly apart from yourself............

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Really well-put, Jen. It's so easy to squash budding writers and terrible when it happens. I'm sure there have been writers with enormous potential who couldn't get past their fear of rejection or a negative review. I think we do have to get to the point as writers that we develop a hard shell and just let criticism bounce off of us.

Mystery Writing is Murder

ElanaJ said...

This is so true. My girl kidlet is four, and she thinks she's the most wonderful being that ever lived. Everything she does is right. Good. Perfect. I wish I could remember a time when I felt like that about myself.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

A very powerful post, Jen. You're right, we must quell the worries of 'them' and write or create what is true to 'us'. I think this fear is common across many creative fields; it could be the fear of being judged 'not good enough'. I don't think you ever get rid of it, but you can quiet it down.


Tamika: said...

Awesome post!

I'm stil struggling to find out when things shifted. The important thing now is to find my way back. Write with passion and leave the praise up to God.

Karen Walker said...

Very powerful post, Jen. And oh so true. It took me way too long to find my voice, literally and figuratively. I'm becoming fiercely protective of it. Thanks for this thoughtful and inspiring message today.

Stephanie Faris said...

I think everything becomes tainted the older we get. We are affected by the cynicism of others, the criticism we hear constantly. Every workshop we attend breaks us down a little more. But the thing about writing is, you have to be broken down before you can build yourself up again stronger. I think of it like weightlifting. You must first tear the muscle, then if you keep going you tear it over and over but it rebuilds stronger and stronger and stronger.

Ratty said...

You got it exactly right. When I'm at my best I don't care what anyone else thinks. It's when I care so much that I begin to form a block. Learning to only care about what I like is what enabled me to write anything at all.

Gwen Stewart said...

Ah, if I could only get back to this again. But no. I wrote two or three novels this way, then learned all the things I was doing wrong. Now every sentence feels like sitting on a bed of nails.

Okay, not quite that bad. (heh)Close, though. I think I lost touch with that internal voice altogether, because I'm now convinced that everything I thought I had right was actually....wrong.

It's okay though. I think all writers go through this. I'll either get through it or I won't; either way, I will survive.

Great post, Jen.

Jen Chandler said...

Kori: Good luck with NaNo. I registered but decided to spend my time editing my novel instead.

Anne Marie: Wise words. Thank you!

Elizabeth: It's very hard to take criticism in a positive light and continue. More people need to realize how powerful their words are and be more careful how they deal them.

Elana: I can remember that time in my life. I'm trying to get back there!

Elspeth: I agree. There will always be that lingering doubt that what we do doesn't measure up. But we must be true to ourselves!

Tamika: Great words! All we can do is what we can do and leave the impossible up to God :)

Karen: You're very welcome. Continue writing in your voice, friend. It's a very powerful (and much needed) one.

Stephanie: That's very true. Until we are stripped to the bones, we cannot write what is true.

Ratty: Good for you! I find that when I start thinking about what I"m writing, about how it may be received, my voice diminishes and what I write is stale. But when I let go, my words fly!

Gwen: You'll get through it! You have a wonderful voice. Don't be afraid of it. Best of luck, friend!

...mmm... said...

Whoa. I really really love this piece. So very ture. I totally agree with you and I'd add that some will add that writing about oneself is "self-centred" and elfish. But i agree with you, that out own voice is all we can really offer anyway. none of us are the same. that is where discovery comes.

I hope you continue to write for years to come, at least here anyway for all of us to enjoy.

Glynis said...

I love this post, I am sick of reading how we should do this or that. We are individuals, we have our own creative sides and should be allowed to fly free with our thoughts.
I am one for worrying about others, this year I decided enough was enough. This is my time to fly.
Well of course, that is after I put time aside for mum and dad, 2 daughters, son,son-in-law, daughter-in-law, husband, 4 dogs, 1 cat and a heap of friends ;0

olivia said...

Very eloquently stated. I find this in photography too ...

deb said...

What a fantastic post Jen. I am reading Old Friend From Far Away, by Natalie Goldberg, and this reminds of part of her message.
I quieted my artsy side in high school when I was told to basically, and went to University to study Economics. Now I feel I have so much to catch up on, especially in reading.
But I'm okay with that. I remember taking a huge risk and reading aloud something I'd written at a gathering after a close friend's funeral, and the feedback I received, and still receive, has made me determined to never look back.

That , and great blogs like yours for inspiration and encouragement!