BY MARA PURL
I recently returned from teaching on the faculty of Publishing at Sea, a program founded by Denver book shepherd Judith Briles. I always enjoy this fantastic opportunity for authors to “get away from it all” in order to create a breakthrough with their writing and publishing work.
One of my programs is titled “The Oyster and the Pearl” — a fun title for the serious business of using life’s irritations to create gems in our writing. Huh? How does that work? (You can contact me for information about the full program.)
Well, let’s say you just can’t stand it when someone tailgates you all the way to work. Traffic is too heavy to switch lanes, so you’re stuck with a pathetically self-involved, entitled driver attached to your rear bumper, someone who evidently has no concept of what it actually takes to stop a car suddenly. Do you settle for muttering and grinding your teeth? Or do you shift gears, take a look at your feelings, and begin imagining a scenario for a character? That works well if you write fiction. And if you write non-fiction, don’t forget that story-telling is the best way to communicate a point to your readers.
Maybe there’s a lesson to be gathered from this irritating experience. You could choose to increase your mastery of patience. Or you could focus on compassion, since this tailgater’s life must be awful, or he wouldn’t behave this way. Or you could choose to create a practice of immunity from this kind of low-level irritation as being unworthy of your attention. Any of these topics would make a good piece of advice in a business book, or a fictional chapter that’ll have your readers nodding in recognition, making them feel so connected to your story that they won’t be able to put your book down.
My writing seminar also brings in much deeper “irritations,” such as those that might arise from the loss of a loved one, a job crisis, or an abusive situation. What do these experiences have to do with writing better? The answer is stunningly simple: authenticity. You might not know that the root for the word “author” and “authentic” is the same. So there’s only one way to be the real author you crave to become, and that’s by being authentic.
Authenticity requires ruthless honesty not only with what happens to us, but with how we respond. Have you had a moment when you had to “come clean” about something? I sure have.
The value of a life-lesson can’t be overestimated. At the root of most writing-problems is that nasty and troublesome inauthenticity. It’s a surprising easy fix technically. We can look a little more deeply at what we’re trying to say, and “get real” about it. Then the words flow.
During this first quarter of 2020 Authoring Tips, I’m focusing on foundational elements. We’ll get into embellishments later in the year, but first, I feel it’s only fair to give clearly drawn blueprints for the foundations of your writing work. Once these are in place, you can build a strong, flexible structure that will be sustainable for you, inspiring for your readers, and fulfilling for your career.
Mare Purl is an author, speaker, performer. Top Female Author of Fiction @ The
Authors Show. 35 book awards, multiple best-seller lists.
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