I flew to Pittsburgh this past week to help my mother move into an independent living facility. It was a lot of work and by the evening I was pooped and a little emotionally stressed. So, for a couple of nights I escaped to a local restaurant, saddled up to the bar, and ordered myself a much-appreciated drink.
At the Bar
I did what writers do best: I sat on a stool, sipped a drink and watched the people around me. There was the cute young couple across from me, snuggling up to each other, tasting each other’s food, privately chatting.There was another older couple adjacent to me, not talking much, or making eye contact but seemingly comfortable in each other's presence. Their focus was the food. I'm guessing they were the long-time, married couple. I wanted to know more about these people. What were their stories?
While I people-gazed, a gentleman sat down near me and struck up a conversation. I realized, in that quick moment, knowing I would probably never see him again, I could be anyone. I could lie about my age, my occupation, where I live, my marital status, even my story of why I was in Pittsburgh. It was a fleeting, freeing feeling to think about being anyone I wanted to be for a half hour. I could create a whole, new story!
Of course, ultimately, I was just me.
At My Desk
While away, I finished Anna Quindlen's memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake. Embedded in one chapter, Ms. Quindlen wrote about teaching her writing students to dig deeper and be more personal and transparent in their writing. She exhorted them to open up more and let people see who they really are, not the person they want to be.
Being vulnerable in our writing, allowing people to see our flaws, foibles, doubts, fears as well as joys and humor is a tricky line to walk, but one which adds readability, warmth, and depth to our writing.
It’s what I've strived to do in the Making the Leap posts, even though my natural tendency is to censor, delete, correct and create the person I want you to see.
I try to imagine you and I are sitting down across the table from each other. I’m sipping my tea, you are perhaps blowing the hot steam off your coffee cup and we are getting to know each other as writers, women and men, friends (I might be stealing a bite of your biscotti, but maybe you can pretend not to notice).
I recently read a book, very different from my usual reading genre, written by Dean Koontz titled, The Door to December. The book is a paranormal crime thriller. The essentials of the plot included a woman recovering from loss, a young daughter desperately in need of healing, and a tough, street-wise detective trying to protect them both in the face of supernatural odds that didn't make sense. In notes at the end of the book, Mr. Koontz reveals his belief that family and its unconditional love offer the ability to conquer even our worse fears and demons. It is a theme personally relevant and important to him and finds its way into many of his stories-- his feelings, needs and vulnerability give his stories their heart.
At Your Desk
How about you? Whether you write fiction or non-fiction, how do you let your vulnerability show? Do you try, as Ms. Quindlen urges, to dig deeper and get more personal with your writing? Do you, as Mr. Koontz did, tap into your own emotions to create a story? How much do you allow the true you to be seen in your writing?
When I think back to the books or blogs I most enjoy, the writers who most engage or touch me, I realize each author has allowed me to sit down and in their engaging voice, invited me to enjoy a cup of coffee and share their stories.
Julie (the real me)