“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” –Ernest Hemingway
Writing is a bloody business. There are no two ways about it. The business of pounding out words on a page is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. There are far easier ways to get your artistic fix: juggling chainsaws, training killer whales, painting graffiti on busy highway overpasses. But if the epic muse refuses to be silent, then be prepared to bleed.
The best art reaches down into the soul, lifting you to untrammeled heights or knocking you to your knees with an emotional kidney punch. Maybe you were one of those kids who cried when Charlotte (of Charlotte’s web) died, or when Travis had to shoot Old Yeller. If so, you identified powerfully with those moments precisely because you invested in those characters throughout the course of the story. You invested so much that the character’s triumph brought you to your feet, or the character’s loss brought you to tears.
Before any of those stories ever wormed their way into your heart, someone else was cheering or crying for those characters. Someone else was riding that emotional roller coaster to make sure it lived up to its billing. That someone was the writer.
One bit of writerly advice I hear often is “Write what you know.” For me, this is not so much about what I know as about what I’ve experienced. My own emotional experiences are a rich source for the creation of memorable characters. If I draw on the poignant moments of my life and recreate them in the stories I write, then chances are many, if not most, readers will be able to connect to those moments as well.
I have to remember that emotional experiences are not unique to me. There are plenty of people who are stirred by the very same things that move me. Those are the people I’m trying to reach. If I’m successful, those people will become my loyal readers.
All it requires is the willingness to look at my own life and the courage to explore those aspects of my life on the written page. Some of the best fiction is autobiographical. If I’m not afraid to bleed a little (or maybe a lot); if I can tap into that emotional reservoir and give my characters honest-to-goodness beating hearts, then maybe I’ll have a story that, at the end, has my reader reaching for a box of tissues, and then reaching for the phone as she calls her friends and tells them about the great book she just finished.
Mike Akins is a thirty year student of RyuTe© Karate, a member of the Amarillo Master Chorale, a composer and pianist, an amateur painter, old movie buff, avid Words with Friends® player, computer programmer, science enthusiast, and an aspiring writer (should he ever string enough quality sentences together to be worthy of that label).