I’ve blogged about this before, but still find myself slipping into the idea-trap. Recently while reading slush-pile submissions for a literary magazine, I found that other writers slip, too. It’s a sure recipe for rejection.
On some level, stories will always be filled with ideas, of course, but when an idea is important, the reason it’s important—its value—is that beneath it, there is a deeply-held emotion. The idea matters on some fundamental emotional level, and it’s the emotion that readers connect with. The books we like most are the ones that speak not to our heads, but to our hearts.
When we think about things (ideas), we’re at least one and possibly many steps removed from the things, themselves. When we think about a moment, we’re interpreting it rather than living it, and when we write interpretations of scenes, readers feel the distance.
Recently I posted a quote on a pale yellow sticky note above my desk: “Raw is a good place for an artist to be.” On American Idol, I heard judge Keith Urban say those words to a contestant. Raw. His comment spoke to me as a writer: stop thinking about the song (or the character or story) and feel it. Live it. Sing (write) from your soul. Let yourself be vulnerable. Be real. Be raw. Urban and the other Idol judges do a good job of pushing artists to dig deeper, and in the process, they’ve pushed me.
Years back, when I set out to write novels for young readers, I had no idea that I would have to dig so deeply into my soul—into really raw places—to tell stories. As hard as this journey has been, it’s also rewarded me in unexpected ways. I’ve felt alive. Connected. A raw place is an honest place, and when it comes to writing fiction, honesty is everything.