Monday, August 29, 2011
Getting Naked with the Muse
I suspect that many writers come to writing because they cannot find their voice in real life. They have trouble speaking their truths, whatever they may be, and writing is a place where they can do just that. (Although I am also willing to admit I might be projecting wildly here.) They don’t even have to risk anyone hearing it if they don’t want to, at least not until the writing kind of takes over and they find themselves pursuing publication.
Most everyone will agree that a great voice is what separates good writing from amazing writing. Not by itself, but it’s hard to achieve great writing without it.
After a certain point, when one has reached a certain mastery of craft, craft is no longer the issue; the uniqueness of the voice is. Not just in the words you use, but the things you have to say. They have to matter. And matter a lot. But in order to do that, you have to be willing to declare to the world what matters to you; what you think about, obsess over, are fascinated by. Even if they aren’t pretty or normal or even very common.
I have been a tiptoer. All my life I’ve tiptoed around my family and friends, not wanting to offend or, God forbid, upset or anger them. It’s hard to describe just how much I’ve censored myself in this quest to be a good friend, mother, daughter, or wife. And in a roundabout way, it served me well because I think it was part of the impetus to turn to writing—to have some place where I could say all the things I could never say in real life. That is why the Theodosia character was such a break through for me. And the only way I could write that first book was by telling myself it was just for me, no one else was ever going to read it. No one else was ever going to see that lens through which I sometimes viewed the world.
And one of the things I adore about the Universe is that it is very willing to send you feedback when you are on the right track. That book has been my most popular one so far, no doubt due to my willingness to untangle myself from my own fears in the writing of it.
Which brings me to the project I've just finished, GRAVE MERCY. Boys and girls, it terrifies me. Anyone who reads it will know that I am fascinated by sex and religion, death and love, duty and honor. I’m not sure I’m ready to confess to the world that my mind spends a lot of time mucking around in those places.
And yet…it does.
There is a scene in the third Narnia book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where Eustace Scrubb has been enchanted and turned into a dragon. In order to remove the enchantment, he has to bathe in a magical pool, but before he can get in it, he has to strip out of his dragon skin. Not just the outer dragonish layer, but down past the scales and skin to the raw, tender Eustace part beneath.
That’s where I feel like I am in my journey; I am in the process of stripping off that old protective skin and finding the courage to step into that pool. Not just in writing, but in life. In striving to become a better writer, I find I have forced myself to become a stronger person. Once I have allowed myself to walk about with sure and certain feet, it is hard to get back up on my tiptoes and resume that cautious, tentative journey.
Stripping off those old protections stings, no question. Maybe even burns a little. I feel raw and tender and unbelievably vulnerable and exposed.
And yet, I am convinced that incredible freedom and beauty exists on the other side of that pool…
(originally posted on The Moody Muses blog)