Nonfiction connects with the truth-telling in explicit ways. Fiction is different. Writing fiction means I make things up.
When you make things up, things which are supposed to read real, it’s challenging. It’s even more challenging when that work isn’t being consumed by a reading public. You have to build an internal trust in your voice as a writer without the benefit of readers who buy your stories and your books. Trusting yourself is harder when you’re the only person interacting with your material.
I mentioned that I was pursuing constructive feedback by getting an editor. I’m not ready to tell you about that process yet. It may take me getting out from under the weight of changes-yet-to-be-made in that manuscript. But I am prepared to say that writing and revising characters requires trusting yourself. It requires trusting your eyes, what you saw, and your ears, what you heard from those characters.
Cultivating internal trust is work. Developing trust–in yourself or in someone else–is an act of faith. You believe there is something worthwhile in you or in that relationship. So you trust. You give a little. You aren’t disappointed. At least not massively. So you give more. Trust grows. Then, it flowers and when trust flowers, fragrance results.
Here are some pointers for maintaining the small stable sediment called trust, particularly when you get feedback that may remove things you thought were unmoveable:
- Trusting your vision and your voice takes courage. When you get feedback from a reader, writer, critic, or editor, your trust must be intact. But that’s courageous effort. If you’re not bold or strong, work at it before you give that work away. Otherwise, the small part of you that you send to that reader or critic will come back smaller, and you will base your own estimation of yourself on that small receipt.
- Be generous. Give away your words and your work. When you ask for feedback from that reader, see it as a chance to, first, give. When you give, it simply doesn’t matter (or it shouldn’t) whether something will return to you. That’s more of an investment. What I’m thinking of is a bit more scary. Giving is always one-sided, motivated only by what you already have, not what you intend to get.
- Remember what matters is the story. In my case, I’m writing a story. Whatever’s good for the story is good for me to know. My feelings may get hurt when you tell me that a character is flat or unexceptional or, perhaps worse, forgettable. But what matters is the strength of the story. It’s the end result, the end product, that matters, not process of cutting and crying, weeping and wailing.
- Trust you have something to say–even if you need help saying it. It’s not bad to get help. Be it while writing and revising a manuscript, developing a relationship, starting a new project, or whatever else you can imagine. Seeking and using help is a sign of fortitude and humility and meekness, which I always think of as internal strength. When you have something to say, let others help you. You can be great at having something to say and terrible at crafting that message. Of course that’s not true in writing but in other areas of life, the point is that you can do your thing well and be supported by people capable in areas where you’re weaker. Don’t be convinced to the contrary.
If you’d like to see another perspective on a similiar topic, two links:
1) Steven Pressfield wrote a great post, and it’s a resource that I think you’ll be interested in. It talks about the Ego and the Unconscious, which I’m pretty sensitive to since I just finished Robert Butler’s From Where You Dream.
2) Jane Freidman has a recent guest post on her blog that’s not about the writer or the writer’s unconscious at all. Shennandoah Diaz discusses the merits of developing a profile of your reader.