We were first-year grad students at New York University learning how to tell dramatic stories for film, TV, and theatre. We each had lived regular lives in other parts of the country, but now, we were in New York City and wanted to venture out in the artistic deep with others who have made a living doing what we dreamed: storytelling. It was the first month of classes, and we had been writing hard and fast. So, we hit a local bar to celebrate being alive, young, and in the NYC in the mid ‘90s. Suddenly, I stepped outside of myself to see us drinking beers, laughing loud, and telling our truths about life up until that point. Our eyes guzzled the atmosphere. I grabbed a bar napkin and a pen. A new friend looked at me smiling. She nodded understanding the fever pitch at which I wrote. When I finished, she told me to keep it because I might need this moment again someday.
I have scribbled on many bar napkins since. Some aren’t from local bars. Instead, they were hotel restaurants, fast-food joints, and Mama’s kitchen. Other memories were penned on backs of paperbags, scribbled in spiral diaries, and on the backs of shopping receipts. I’ve saved much, but some I’ve lost during my moves across the country chasing dreams, jobs, and trying to find my authentic creative voice. In all of my ramblings, I’ve written. Really, I’ve snatched time to recreate the Kodak life moments on paper to one day use them in bigger dramatic platforms.
This blog is such a platform.
It will be here that I will share golden creative nuggets chiseled from the master writing tables of people I’ve studied with, been mentored by, and ultimately worked side by side. Here is my first: Writing shouldn’t be a secret art. It should be part and parcel of what people do while living. Write because you are alive.
Live. Write. Live Some More.
Strong writing comes from personally living out loud. We writers carry stories in our souls even before we discover them. We observe life, jump into the fray of some lively experiences, and dare to lead a few exploding emotional treks. We are the griots of our time, and yet, we don’t discover our own authentic writing voices until we have lived life on the edge.
I don’t mean purposely life threatening, although some moments MAY HAVE BEEN. However, I do mean heart-wrenching and soul-searing life moments that take you to the brink of your mind before being yanked back into reality. Life moments like parenthood, marriage, loved ones’ deaths, unintended singleness, widowhood, being fired, unemployment, fire, flood, health crisis, loss of businesses, displacement, winning the Lotto, dropping out of school, graduation, societal issues bleeding into your day to day, and global catastrophes. These moments demand a response. Allowing your words to spill onto the pages gives rise to the voice within you. Your perspective is the lens with which you connect with others. So, embrace life and write wildly.
Write What You Know?
Writing profs repeated this to me like a broken record. At first, I thought it was an untruth. Now, I realize that writing what you know means including a piece of you in every line, character, and scene in your story. Snatch a page from your life and include it in the piece you write. I am not saying put all of your business in the street. Nooooo! What I am saying is add the spice of real life to your make-believe stories, if writing fiction. If writing nonfiction, add a personal moment that rocked you to the core. Share with the audience until you tell your stories with real passion, vulnerability, and truth. Create worlds in which we’ve never seen with bad-ass characters who say and do things most only dream about and secretly wish they could. Write a story in which the unlikely character wins. Flip the story on its head and keep your readers guessing.
Also, strengthen your knowledge of people. Over time, people watching has become one of my favorite past times because it allows me to see what people do and how they do it. I then infuse what I’ve learned into my characters. Doing so has enriched my characters’ lives and given me new subtleties to sprinkle into their character DNA. When we add the realness of life into our stories, we create moments in which the audience becomes gripped believing what they experience FEELS familiar.
Dare to Share
It takes a brave person to put fingers to keys and type out their souls. That’s what writers do. We allow ourselves to write until our fingers shred and our eyes leak the water of life just to create naked moments on the page that allow others to connect at the gut level because it is there we uncover the truth of our humanity. So, tell your story. Loud. Proud. Full of color and truth. Be humble and audacious. Be vulnerable yet strong leaving out not a sordid detail, so others won’t have a chance to paint your picture with their spin. In essence, tell on yourself with flair.
Open your heart and allow the words to dribble all over the page with the power of the message you’ve been hiding. Yeah. I know. You’ve been writing to be liked. Stop it this instance; instead, write to be heard. Write with a message so mind blowing that haters seek you out, because secretly, they want to be you.
Not everyone will enjoy your work. Not everyone will understand it, but some will be touched. Others will find the diamonds you’ve hidden between every word, after each period, and behind every line. They’ll enjoy the verbal cadence of your work, and how your message resonates with their life journeys. You’ll find you’ll receive text messages of encouragement like old-fashion sticky notes in lunch boxes from secret admirers hoping you succeed beyond your ancestors’ wildest dreams.