Writing to Know Oneself

Miss Kitty pauses to wonder what it’s all about.

Forgive me for deviating from my usual practical tips, but
once in a while it’s good to ask what it all means.

Writing Tip for Today: How does a writing practice illuminate
our understanding of ourselves and others?

Learn What You Know

“I write to discover what I know.” –Flannery O’Connor.

What was true for O’Connor is also true for every writer. It’s one reason so many writers love research. As we learn what we know (or, in my case, DON’T know), we go off in search of the missing pieces of our settings, characters and stories. One thing I notice is that my head holds far more info from research than I actually use in my work. But this more expansive knowledge lends a gravitas which might not be possible if I hadn’t delved so deep into the research.

When you write, you’re
tapping into a different brain region than your normal conscious thought. When
I write, I often look back on what I’ve typed and feel astonished at the words
which came up out of me. As keen observers, we writers are constantly banking
the less measurable facets of life: the innuendoes, humor, pathos, angst of
being alive. Writing helps us locate our souls, our essences, by cutting
through the clutter of the mundane.

Learn Why You Write

“Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

The adage goes that if you can’t NOT write, you’re better off finding a different practice. Writers know this is because writing is HARD. It is lonely, disappointing, grueling and anxiety-producing.

Yet, as Henry James
noted, “Writing is its own reward.” As we make writing an integral piece of our
lives, we gradually see that our spirits command us to write. To make known
what we cannot see about ourselves. To shine a light on our flaws, our
strengths, our understanding of the world we live in.

Learn Why You Are

“A good writer possesses not only his own spirit but also the spirit of his friends.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

Very few earnest writers would say they have never wondered about why we are all here. What is the meaning of life? Why are we self-aware? Why do we have written language? These questions can inform and deepen every writer’s life. In writing fiction, writers are pressed to understand human motivations through the foibles and missteps of life. In creating larger-than-life, memorable characters, we may not answer the profound questions, but we can continue to illustrate them for our readers.

A practical way to inspire your readers is by improving as a writer. And one easy way to write better is to read more. Read the best books you can find. Read widely, read often, read current books, not just old masters.

If you think you’re “just”
writing romance novels, or mysteries or thrillers, think again. Each scene you
write, every story you tell, every character you bring to life sheds light on
these fundamental questions of what we know, why we write and why we are.

Can you name an
example of how you understand some aspect of being better due to your writing
practice?

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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