Writing with teeth

“If ever there is a good time to let art be subversive, it’s now. … Some of the best art, the best fiction, is stuff that has teeth, that’s willing to bite the hand that takes away its food and its shelter and its rights.”Chuck Wendig


What benefits readers most?

“The author who benefits you most is not the one who tells you something you did not know before, but the one who gives expression to the truth that has been dumbly struggling in you for utterance.” Oswald Chambers

When your writing isn’t “safe”

Sometimes, when you’re writing, you just want to feel safe. You want to express your inmost thoughts and feelings and know that no one will judge you for them. You want to talk about the way the cherry blossoms make you feel, or the way the snow falls, and you don’t care about being original, you just want to write because you feel happy. Or sad. Or whatever.

And that’s fine. But sometimes your writing isn’t safe. Sometimes when you write, it becomes much darker than you were expecting. Your characters may express thoughts that frighten you because you feel that way too, you’ve just never admitted it. The “you” that questions things, the “you” that’s always been slightly rebellious and snarky, the “you” that is always under the surface, just waiting to get out–that person is in your writing, and the fact that you’ve written this person into being makes you the tiniest bit scared.

Your subconscious mind is up all night figuring out what it is that your conscious mind is avoiding, and when your creative self hooks into the subconscious, here come surprises. ~Vinita Hampton Wright

What do you do? How will people react when they see this? Those are good questions, Sometimes you just need to embrace the weird. Write dangerously! Stretch yourself. Question things. Sometimes we need to write on the edge to keep ourselves from living there.

Vinita Hampton Wright warns that when we embrace creativity, we may find that we frighten other people at times with our honesty and willingness to question. We may be rejected. We may be misunderstood. These aren’t reasons to stop writing, but we need to be prepared to face the consequences of our creativity. We can’t control the way that other people respond to our work, even though writing would be a much “safer” process if we could.

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“The truth is bright, sometimes so bright that it hurts your eyes,” Wright notes. If we fail to embrace this truth and only write what feels “safe” to us, it’s like putting a candle in a cupboard and expecting it to brighten the room. If we are willing to take risks with our writing, we may get burnt, but our light will shine much further.




When Life imitates Art

Art should imitate life (or so we’re told). Often, we attempt to make our writing a realistic reflection of the world and human behavior. There’s nothing wrong with attempting to recreate the world as we experience it, but sometimes this doesn’t seem to work. Our descriptions may seem trite or colorless, or the experiences of the characters don’t ring true.

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In these circumstances, how can we inject new life in our writing? How can we encourage the creative parts of our brain to do their work? Think about ways to tell convincing lies: stories that are not necessarily realistic to your personal experience, but a story that you can feel conviction about, that you can get behind.

In a dialogue titled “The Decay of Lying” Oscar Wilde (king of the tongue-in-cheek aphorism) has one of his characters remark,  “The imagination is essentially creative, and always seeks for a new form.”  This is good for you: you already have the raw materials needed to craft something new. Let your imagination take your writing in the direction that it wants to go. Let your ideas speak through the process of placing words on the page.

If you feel unhappy in your writing, perhaps it’s because you are trying to tell a story that’s already been told. Although as Anne Lamott notes, there are no really original plots under the sun, you also have a unique perspective from which to tell your story. Play around with the possibilities. Be willing to deal with the absurd and the unlikely.

Wilde’s character says:

Literature always anticipates life. It does not copy it, but molds it to its purpose.

This idea that life is the author’s to shape and mold can be very freeing. Instead of being slaves to realistic representation, we can strike out new paths and create as we see fit. If you write a fiction that rings true, a lie with body behind it, you may find that it shapes your way of perceiving the world and changes the way you relate to reality. Once you have the vocabulary to describe something, you will start to see it in the world around you.

In this sense, the idea that life could imitate Art may not be that strange after all.