Monday, February 6, 2012

Eating My Words - Nourishing Your Work

In my writing workshops I talk about oven cleaner writing. This is the kind of writing you’d rather clean the oven than do.

Most scenes we would rather avoid have to do with difficult emotions and painful experience for our characters and ourselves. We’d just as soon bypass this gut wrenching territory on our way to digging out the Easy Off.

“Suck it up” I would pronounce from my lofty post behind the dais.

Do it anyway. Dive straight into that dreaded scene and write the hell out of it – literally. Because there lies paydirt.

I was right about that. Tense – as in intense – scenes that disrupt the gut and engage the heart are the stuff of agent-editor appeal. And also the stuff of reader appeal after the work is published.

I felt good about laying that dictum on my audience – self satisfied even. Then I was pressed to practice what I preached.

My memoir Lifted to the Light contains a lot of emotional stuff. It’s about my dance along the tightrope between life and death after all.

I cried through reliving those scenes but none of them stopped me in my writing tracks. None of them sent me in search of the oven scrubber. Until two of them did.

The first of those scenes involved humiliating myself. It was bad enough that I had already acted the fool in public in real life. Now I had to do it again in writing. I knew this scene had to be included in order to make an honest portrayal. I balked at it anyway.

The second gut wrencher told the story of the day my beloved grandson plunged through plate glass on our property. One of the most frightening experiences of my life and I was loath to return there.

I wrote around and past both of these scenes. I even considered leaving them out. But I knew I must not do that. I had to follow my own advice and cash in the paydirt on the page.

So I adopted the yucky cough syrup approach. I spooned up the medicine and swallowed it fast. In other words I wrote each of those scenes so rapidly I thought my arm might fall off.

Then they were done and the story was considerably better – more intense and compelling – because they were in it.

I continue to talk about oven cleaner writing in my workshops and seminars. But now I truly understand – in my gut and in my heart – what I'm talking about.

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