In hopes of seasoning their craft, most writers read books on technique. During my own odyssey toward self-improvement, two simple pieces of advice particularly resonated. The first came from the book On Writing by Stephen King, the second from author Wayson Choy.
1. Pushing The Envelope
Writers often wonder how far to push boundaries.
–Will our words be offensive?
–Will Grandma cringe when she reads them?
–Will little Timmy hide in shame from his friends?
Questions of this nature plagued my first novel, and I omitted passages as a result. But a side effect of sanitization was deception. I wasn’t being true to my story. Though perhaps not critical in my first book, the issue weighed heavier in my current manuscript where the premise is controversial and divisive.
The following words from King’s book On Writing eased my boundary-crossing:
“If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.” (Page 148, paperback)
“As with all other aspects of fiction, the key to writing good dialogue is honesty.” (Page 185)
“The point is to let each character speak freely, without regard to what the Legion of Decency or the Christian Ladies’ Reading Circle may approve of. To do otherwise would be cowardly as well as dishonest, and believe me, writing fiction in America as we enter the twenty-first century is no job for intellectual cowards.” (Page 187)
Though King specifically refers to dialogue (profanity, portraying bigoted characters), the concept applies to all aspects of storytelling.
My take-home message? When we censor ourselves, we stop writing honestly.
Of course, as a writer there are places I’ll never go. I don’t like reading about those places (think torture porn or detailed sexual violence), and I certainly won’t create them. But my current manuscript involves a social theme of which there are strong opinions. As a result, I had to stop worrying about what others would think and just write the dang book.
That comfortable boundary will vary among writers, just as it does for readers. The trick is to decide how much stretching beyond our own confines we can stomach.
2. Just Sit That Thing Down!
I put my other favorite piece of advice into action this past summer:
“The only secret to writing is AC: Ass on Chair.”—Wayson Choy (and others)
An amazing thing happened when I backed away from social media, turned off my television shows, and worked Monday through Sunday, week after week. I finished my book.
Although some of those writing sessions were about as fun as acupuncture with steak knives, it really was as simple as “Ass on Chair.”*
Any favorite writing advice you’ve taken? Do you have boundaries as a writer or reader?
*Ass on Chair proves more difficult when one has a ‘real’ job. Such was the case with my first book. But even then, one to two hours a night after the kids went to bed paid off. It just took longer.