Friday, October 7, 2011

And how does that make you feel?

Ever have the feeling the universe is trying to stuff something into your big, fat, ugly head? Maybe it’s not so much a “woo-woo” experience as it is your inner mind focusing on something before it tells your everyday mind about it. Sort of like I kept seeing pregnant women right before I decided I wanted to have a baby. (And what was I thinking then?) I don’t like subliminal messages from myself. I rely on my normal shallow nature to protect me from deep emotion.

This week, Cricket McRea, author of the Home Crafting Mystery series, posted a blog about Splat. This is a technique for discovering the inner workings of your own mind so you can plumb the depths of your fear and anxiety to create more complex and interesting characters.

Now doesn’t that sound like fun?

Less than a month ago, at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Conference, I attended a three-hour workshop given by romantic suspense writer and amazing writing coach, Laura Baker, of Story Magic fame. The workshop was entitled The Fearless Writer: Discovering Your Story. Among the eye-opening and light bulb-illuminating tidbits in this workshop, Laura walked us through a bit of psychoanalysis all in the name of finding a good story. Talk about stepping out of my six inch deep comfort zone.

At the most basic, The Fearless Writer course is about discovering what made you begin writing. Before you learned you couldn’t write because you didn’t know about stimulus and response and point of view and voice and character arcs and turning points, what gave you the passion to tell the story inside of you?

Before we can answer this question, we have to go through a series of exercises, dredging up all the good, bad and ugly we’ve squirreled away throughout our lives and find out what our purpose is in storytelling. Like cats, some of us are particularly good and burying our, ahem, “unpleasantness.” And like Methuselah, some of us have enough years on our bones to have accumulated a lot of said “unpleasantness.”

Laura had us look at stories and characters we found easiest to write and those we couldn’t complete. Using our own life experiences, we drew links to our stories and can then discover what our strengths are as writers. The exercises took the pain and joy in our past and associated that emotional gunk (that’s my technical term) with our stories to find themes we return to.

I’m not about to tell you all the personal dysfunction I discovered in just three hours of this workshop. It’s embarrassing how much of my therapy has been worked out in the pages of my books. But it makes for some particularly flawed characters with lots of growth potential. Obviously, Laura’s workshop is way more involved than what I’ve plastered here and I urge you to check it out.

When I fearlessly and foolishly decided I wanted to be a writer, no one told me I was going to have to pull out all the nasty little bugs hiding in the dark recesses of my brain. Like spiders in my house, I’m way happier if I don’t see them. I’m not all that into self awareness, we shallow people shy away from that. I have honed the art of denial until I’m a true master. And now the dagnabbed universe is banging me on the head with a sledgehammer and telling me to dig deeper. Fine, okay, I’m not stupid, I get the message. But if I have to cry to write this next book, somebody is going to be in trouble.

What about you? Do you enjoy the process of baring your soul, even in disguise, in your work?


  1. I couldn't help but think of Dorothy Sayer's Gaudy Night, when Peter Wimsey comments to his beloved Harriet (paraphrased): "So what if it hurts like hell, as long as it makes a better book."

    So what if it hurts like hell? Indeed.

    It hurt like hell to receive all those rejections for that very first manuscript (which never should have been sent out in the first place). Then it hurt like hell to set it aside, and to also set aside the second because they just weren't good enough. When drafting the third manuscript it might have only hurt like heck to be a bit more honest, though I certainly didn't bare my soul.

    Now, with my current WIP? Bring on the box of tissues and I'll raise you one! After all, so what if it hurts like hell, so long as it makes a better book...

  2. I kind of like splatting my soul on the page. I think I'm an exhibitionist. I can say anything in fiction. At least I think I can. I’ve been known to say too much. Usually I have to back off in subsequent drafts – especially in the realms of sex and personal angst.

    I was raised with wobbly boundaries; I'll make love on a beach that has spies stationed all around. But maybe not with that dog I've been eyeing – just joking. (sorry San Francisco)

    Now I need to take that show-off nature and see if I can sustain it, lace it through, exaggerate it over the course of an entire rewrite of Mu Shu Mac-N-Cheese. I may just have to run around the block naked to get myself in the mood. - Inkpot

  3. Ha! I know just what you mean about the universe nudging you harder and harder until you capitulate. Funny post, and spot on, Shannon. Bring on the tissues!

  4. Janet--when I think of you crying it makes me cry. Hope the book is worth it! Karen--you don't necessarily have to experience it right now, use your memory (and keep your clothes on!) Cricket, how does it feel to be in conspiracy with the universe in getting me feel the pain?