Some Thoughts On Writing Honestly

7:00 AM


Something I've talked about before, but hey, you wanted to hear what I learned at the writing conference.


So there was this writing conference, as you all know by now. And at said conference we were gifted with the presence of authors like Ally Condie, Jennifer Nielson, Jacqueline West, Jonathan Friesen, and others. They all had very different personalities and very different things to say, but when it came down to it they would all give you the same advice: write honestly and write personally. 

Cue me the heartless emotionless ESTP wincing in the background.
actual footage of me 
Now, I kind of feel like this is at the core of any good piece of writing. It's the thing we all have to learn. How do we take our experiences and our personality and our pain and the things we observe around us and turn that into a unique piece of art? How do we let that flow into our writing? How do we fill our writing with emotional and allllllll the feels and make people care?

This is going to sound repetitive but again, I think lately I'm learning that it's all in writing honestly. Writing about real stuff the way it really is. 

That's the core of what we love about stories. All the best stories show us ourselves and the rest of the world, the way it really is. That's what disturbs or fascinates us. 1984 carries a punch and scares you to death because it's about where we're headed as a society, and we see society in it. You probably love your favorite character because, to some extent, they've got pieces of you, and you see yourself in their struggles. Writers are able to show us what it means to be human and what it means to be ourselves, and they probably don't do it by sitting down and thinking up grand metaphors for the entire human condition. 

They probably just look at what they see and the people around them, and write about that. 
we are the annoying bratty sherlock holmes-es among humans.
The story I'm writing for Camp NaNo this month (actually a second draft but whatever) is sci-fi/dystopia, but it's largely about mental illness. in what i'm hoping is a subtle way but whatever, i guess i can hope. I wouldn't get very far if I tried to sit down and think about or even research how mental illness affects all teens, or if I looked at the specifics, or even if I talked to dozens upon dozens of teens affected by it. I could do it, I'm sure, but would it have the same punch? I'm not very far in but I've already figured out that when I take the time to relate it to my own experiences, when I write about the feelings I know and how they actually truly are, not how I want them to be for drama or plot or whatever, things start to flow.

It hurts. I don't write about my honest emotions very well naturally. But once I start doing it, things work. Because they're real. And I know they're real.

I just finished reading a collection of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald (his writing is life okay) and for once I actually read the introduction and editor's notes, because Fitzgerald was fascinating. One thing that caught my eye was several mentions of how again and again, Fitzgerald would talk about his commitment to writing about the things he saw and experienced and writing about them the way they happened. Sometimes he talked about that as being a burden, or inconvenient, or emotionally heavy, because it is. But Fitzgerald looked at himself and the broken society around him and he wrote people exactly the way he saw them, recording everything, so to speak. And that's why his stories cut so deep emotionally, I think. 

I'm going in circles now, but all of this to say -- as writers, we almost have a duty to record the world as we see it. To talk about the pain, and the gritty stuff, and the no-fun non-dramatic mostly just hurtful things that go on in us and the people around us. Who else is going to do it? We're the people who are able to take these feelings that are kind of universally human sometimes and translate them into words that make sense. People need to read that. People need to see that kind of pain and know that they're not alone. That's what writing is all about. Writing about what's real. Writing about emotions and human things and what's around us. 

And when we make that more of a focus than trying to be dramatic, than trying to force a plot to be cool, all of the rest will follow.

24 comments

  1. Girl, thank you thank you thank you, this is EXACTLY what I needed for my Camp NaNo novel that I'm working on. I was letting it go to the fluffy side, and I wasn't sure what was going wrong, but then when I read your post, I realized that I couldn't just write about the stuff I liked. I had to write about the hard and gritty stuff. The stuff I like to avoid IRL. Okay, I'm gonna stop procrastinating and write some gritty real life characters. (-:

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    1. I'm so glad this helped! Go on and write allll the personal gritty stuff. It's gonna be great.

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  2. GREAT post. (Also, yay for the Futurama gif.) I'm like you in that it's not very easy for me to be honest emotionally, especially in my writing, but if you're not, what's the point? I think the best stories work because they satisfy this longing for connection that we have--you know that someone, even if it's an author you've never met, understands how you feel. There's something so honest about laying bare your own emotions, even if it is hard.

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    1. Exactly -- what's the point? And I've always held that writing can help people in ways you don't even know until you've written it, and so by writing honestly, you could be really helping someone and telling them that they're not alone. And that's more important than anything else.

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  3. Awesome post, Aimee! Definitely something I need to focus on in my stories. I shall keep all of this in mind *nods*. (also can I have a link to your Camp NaNo profile? Ya know, so I can stalk your progress properly XD)

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    1. *nodnod* And certainly! Stalk away. :) http://campnanowrimo.org/campers/immortalpower

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  4. I think that if your writing isn't personal then... really... what's the point? What's the point if you aren't throwing your everything into the novel? Your thoughts and emotions and soul into it. If you don't, then it just turns out empty and emotionless and dull.

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    1. Exactly. That's why I don't like a lot of books, I think, or don't care about them -- I can't find the emotion in them, and I just...don't care? Stories are such an emotional thing and without that personal connection they just fall flat.

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  5. It's soooo weird but I was JUST THINKING ABOUT THIS TODAY. Except I was thinking about whether it was always good to write too personally because that makes it harder to take critiques right? But I still totally agree with what you're saying and this perspective IS GOLD BASICALLY. Plus isn't there that saying "not tears in the writer, no tears in the reader"? And I guess it doesn't have to be "tears" per se, but if we writers aren't feeling it, then how will our readers? And I do think it's easy to tell when a book is very personal. *hugs all the books*

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    1. Ugh that's the struggle, it does make it so much harder to write and then take critique and basically you're just an insecure peanut about it because so much emotional connection. SIGH. xD

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  6. Mmmm, this is rad. So often I fall prey to making my plot dramatic, or my characters too storybook perfect, but real life hurts, man. And sometimes, not in a beautiful way. In a messy way. And I need more of that in my writing.

    "Writers are able to show us what it means to be human and what it means to be ourselves, and they probably don't do it by sitting down and thinking up grand metaphors for the entire human condition.

    They probably just look at what they see and the people around them, and write about that."

    So true. This was on point. Thanks for writing it!

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    1. Yes, it's always been my goal to write what's real, even when it's gritty and messy and hurtful. But that's hard sometimes.

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  7. aHHHH YOU GENIUS YOU. That was so beautifully summarized just ... *hugs post*

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  8. This sums it up so perfectly. I tend to have trouble with this, because I generally deal with my emotions by forcefully ignoring them, and writing honestly and personally is out of my comfort zone. Frankly, it terrifies me. But, as you said, writing is about writing what's real. What's the point if you don't?

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    1. Ugh it's the hardest. I feel that. :P

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  9. Mmm... Good stuff. Sometimes it's easy to lose sight of what matters in a story when we try to "make" it unique/dramatic/emotional. Sometimes just letting things flow simply & come from the world around us (and inside us) makes for a stronger punch-in-the-stomach tale than our evil writer brains could ever concoct on their own.

    Thanks for the reminder, Aimee. <3

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    1. I feel like I lose sight of it a lot, so it's a reminder I needed too. *nodnod*

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  10. This is really good because lately I've been worrying about what to put into my plot rather than the story itself (I hope that made sense). It took a little while to get my camp nanowrimo story really started because of this. But I found that once I focused on the smaller parts, the emotion in it, it flowed better. This post backs up what I just started doing today. :)

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    1. Yeah, things go so much smoother when you start working from emotions, from the little personal things. :D

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  11. YES, this. I needed to be reminded of this. I've always tried to write honestly, but I can easily forget why it's important to report the human condition as it is rather than the way I want it to be. And it's so important to remember that, in writing honestly about my struggles, among other things, I am able to give a voice to those who share my struggles but find themselves unable to speak up. The more I think about it, the more I think that's the biggest reason why I love writing. Because even thought it's wicked hard, it's what gives writing even more purpose.

    Thank you for sharing!

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    1. It's just the hardest and I'm the worst at it, but I think I'm learning slowly, and becoming a better writer because of it.

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  12. I worry about putting too much if myself in my writing, but I'm starting to think it's necessary, writing is painful, but healing too.

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  13. This is soooo true. I really liked this post. Writing about your own raw, genuine emotions is what makes tear jerking books and real stories because it's relatable.

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