Reconnecting with the Soul of My Writing
When I took the plunge and joined Adrienne Young’s Writing with the Soul workshop in November, I didn’t realize how challenging and emotional the workshop would be, nor did I fully appreciate the hard truths I’d have to face (and discuss!)
When discussing perspective, we were encouraged to look into our life’s “well” and examine the experiences that have shaped our perspective as a writer. These experiences are fertile ground for storytelling and character building – with a caveat for traumatic, triggering experiences.
I do have some interesting experiences that have shaped my perspective, including being raised by two deaf adults, growing up in an evangelical Pentecostal household and community, moving out at eighteen, “playing house” with a man I loved for eight years, experiencing heartbreak and betrayal, marrying into a different culture – and other things that I can barely bring myself to write in my own private journal, much less put on paper for others – even my husband – to see.
The ‘Perspective’ week was an illuminating and emotional one. It immediately inspired a specific scene from my past to come to mind in an opening scene that essentially wrote itself. It wasn’t the story I set out to write in November. It may not even be a story that I can finish, or that I can ever share if I do. But it felt good to feel the urge to write from my perspective again; to dig into my well, not for a grad paper or to discuss communication theory with my peers, but to share something of myself on the page.
Which brings us to…
I shared a snippet of that opening scene with my fellow workshoppers and was warmed by their feedback. After considering my writing voice as well as the feedback I received, I think my writing voice is:
In all honesty, contemplating my writing voice was, and still is, tough – and it seemed to be one of the toughest weeks for most everyone in the workshop. For me, I think it’s tough to describe my voice because I haven’t used it in a long time; not really; not authentically. I find I edit and censor myself a lot, out of self-doubt, certainly, but also out of fear; fear that someone may not like what I have to say; fear that I’ll be rejected by the ones I hold dear.
So, there’s more work to be done when it comes to writing with my voice and it starts with writing courageously.
Week three brought us to the subject of conviction, which informs both what we write and how we write. Conviction starts with the confidence of calling myself a writer – not mumbling that “I like to write” or glossing over the subject. If I write, I am a writer – even if I’m not physically writing. If I’m daydreaming about plots or characters or themes or my ‘big questions,’ I am still a writer, a creator or words and worlds and the characters within them. Declaring this out loud, even as I sat solitary in front of my notebook, felt empowering and real.
Conviction also touched on feeling confident in one’s writing and not conflating confidence in oneself and one’s talent with how one may feel about the current work-in-progress. As Adrienne so adroitly asked: Is your problem confidence or content?
I realized, through this workshop, that just because a story idea comes, doesn’t mean the story is meant to written – at all, or maybe just not for now. Maybe your seed of an idea really needs to germinate and go through a few seasons of your life and learnings before it’s ready to blossom into a real, fully-formed story that you can connect to on every level. Thinking back on the stories I’ve started but never finished that still haunt me from time to time, this was potent food-for-thought.
Finally, Adrienne encouraged us to develop our own Writer’s Creed: a kind of North Star for us to refer to when something feels “off” with our projects. The creed serves as a reminder of what we know our writing strengths to be as well as what goals we want to achieve with our writing and stories.
My Writer’s Creed:
My writing is:
My goal with each book is to:
Tell compelling, character-driven stories that stick to the bones
Make the reader feel seen/not alone
Reveal myself and my experiences more fully
Reveal the diversity of people and their experiences – but also emphasize our commonalities
I was comforted to know that this Writer’s Creed isn’t a binding contract that limits my writing or how or what I write; indeed, it frees me to write authentically through the season I’m living now. It will evolve and change as I grow as a writer.
The fourth and final week of the workshop covered the process of writing.
I’m one of those writers who loooove to read about the craft and nuts and bolts of writing. I have at least a dozen craft- and process-related books and have participated in a few online craft and process workshops. Bits and pieces of these were helpful to my process, but I was frustrated to find that no one book or instructor offered a process that I could follow to transfer the story in my head down on paper exactly the way I envisioned.
What did I learn about process, then? If it’s working, it’s right.
Developing, planning, drafting and revising a novel isn’t cut-and-dry. There’s no one-fits-all process that will work for everyone. If we writers come from different perspectives, with different life experiences and different voices and convictions, then how could we be expected to follow someone else’s process?
[Hint: we can’t.]
While I can admire and learn from other’s processes, I must reflect on what sort of process best supports my creativity and the story being written at the time. And figuring that out comes down to intuition, surrender and trust. Scary words, I know!
I feel pretty good about my intuition – that is, my ability to know when something isn’t quite right or when it’s working. I know that I need to better support my intuition by having at least a loose guide to my character’s arcs and to the plot itself.
I also feel good about my ability to surrender to the story, to allow my characters to surprise me and to hold my story with a loose hand, allowing it to take twists and turns I haven’t planned for.
Where I’m lacking is trust – trust in myself as a storyteller. Too often, I ask myself “Why would anyone else care about this story/the characters/etc.?” When what I should be focusing on is writing the story I want to read and writing it with my own voice, from my own perspective and from my own center of conviction – and
develop the process and balance that works for ME.
Throughout the Writing with the Soul workshop, I learned so much about my mental and emotional connection and approach to writing. I felt the magical spark of putting the story in my head down on paper. I was comforted by the writing community that rallied together during the daily and weekly chats and live Q&A sessions. I rediscovered what I love about storytelling. Most of all, I learned to be honest with myself about my lazy, fearful approach to writing that has plagued me all these years – and developed new tools and insights on how to design a new approach that works for me and supports my writing journey.
I went into the workshop with vague hopes and left with the solid beginning of the story in my soul.
Thanks for the early Christmas gift, Adrienne – the kind that keeps on giving.