Write from the heart #amwriting

Writers are entertainers. We write books for people who want a diversion from the daily grind. No matter the subject or genre, we write escapes for people who need to just get away for a while.

MyWritingLife2021Our stories take the reader to exotic places and introduce them to other realities. When we publish a book, we hope it will find a reader on the day they were looking for just such an escape.

If it does, we hope we have written something reader will stay with to the end. We hope they see life and vitality in the narrative, the kind of energy we thought we were imparting when we wrote it.

No matter how well edited a manuscript is, readers will only stay with us if we allow ourselves to write from the heart. We must write what we believe is true even though the story is about people and events that never happened. If we believe in what we write, the prose will have power.

poetry-in-prose-word-cloud-4209005I wrote poetry and lyrics for a heavy metal band when I first started out. I was young, sincere, and convinced I had to impart a message with every word. I didn’t know until twenty years later when I came across my old notebook that my poems weren’t honest. Eighteen-year-old me was trying to make a point rather than offering ideas for further thought.

Paging through that notebook and looking back at my work, I could see the falseness clearly. My words were contrived – I was trying too hard to be the next Bob Dylan. The words that emerged hadn’t been good enough, so I went out of my way to be clever.

When I began writing stories for my children, I knew better than to get fancy. I still wrote crap but what I wrote then was honest crap because I no longer had anyone to impress.

my-books-cjjasp-own-workChildren are unimpressed by the fact their parents might write a story or play music or paint or do any of the creative arts.

They are also blunt when they tell you where a story or a song or a picture fails to impress them and are upfront about why. Thanks to the tough audience that my children were in those beginning years, I found ways to write fairy tales with truths that weren’t shaded by what I thought art should be.

These stories were better, but they weren’t written by an educated author.

As my children left home, I had more time to learn how to write a literate, well-plotted story. I made connections with other writers and joined writing groups. That was when I discovered that an author needs to be consistent with punctuation even when writing from the heart.

I had no idea I was uneducated because I had done well in writing and literature in school. I navigated college courses with no problem other than laziness. Alas, members of my writing group pointed out that I hadn’t retained much of what I was taught in elementary school.

steering the craft leguinAs Ursula K. LeGuin said in her excellent book, Steering the Craft, A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, “If you aren’t interested in punctuation, or are afraid of it, you’re missing out on some of the most beautiful, elegant tools a writer has to work with.” [1]

So, I knew a lot of words but didn’t know a lot about how to shape them. I try to embrace what I fear, so I forced myself to re-learn the fundamentals of American English grammar. I’m not perfect, but I try to do as well as possible. My editor still finds habitual errors.

If you are a regular reader here, you know I enjoy reading books in every genre and style.  While the books I love are scattered all across the spectrum, they have one thing in common—they are all written by authors with an understanding of the basic rules of punctuation.

Often, these authors break other grammar rules with style and abandon, but they do pay attention to punctuation.

Punctuation matters because it is the traffic signal telling the reader to go, yield, go again, or stop. If an author gets the punctuation right in most places, the reader can suspend their disbelief.

Writers begin as readers. In his book, On Writing, Stephen King gives us permission to read for six hours achicago guide to grammar day, should we so desire. Reading is how we come to understand writing and the art of story. Mr. King also admonishes us to learn the fundamentals of punctuation and grammar.

In my quest to understand the art of constructing a story, I have come across some pretty awful books. As a freelance editor, I have twice had work submitted to me by authors who believed a convoluted mess was ready for the publisher and just needed a bit of proofreading. No editor has the time or desire to completely rewrite a story for a client, and they will decline that project.

We all suffer agonies on hearing criticism until we have been at it for a while. At first, our skin is thin and delicate and bleeds copiously when flaws are found in the precious child that is our work.

storybyrobertmckeeEvery editor will tell you no amount of money is worth the time and effort it would take to teach an author how to write coherent, readable prose. That is what seminars, books on craft, and books on style and grammar are for.

I have said this before—I don’t consider something awful and hard to read if it is written in an old-fashioned style. However, I do think a book is awful when its author wastes my time by not learning how to construct a sentence.

And when it comes to the narrative, poetry can’t be forced, but good prose can be ruined by trying to make it poetic.

I learned the hard way that contrived prose is not poetic, nor does it prove you are talented. When poetry or good imagery emerges naturally, rejoice and keep writing. Let the imagery flow when it will, and don’t force it. Every word we write doesn’t have to be golden.

LarrysPostRapturePetSittingService_EllenKingRiceI want to read an honest story about people who seem real, who have the kind of problems we can all relate to on a human level. I want to read a story that comes from an author’s deepest soul. The setting doesn’t matter—it can be set on Mars or in Africa. Characters matter, and their story matters.

I read all genres and all settings. I will forgive the imperfections if the author has tried to be consistent and knows the fundamentals of punctuation and grammar.

I love nothing more than finding a great story that rings of truth and touches my heart. If it has passages that flow naturally and strike deep into my poetry-loving soul, all the better.


[1] Quote: Ursula K. LeGuin, Steering the Craft, A 21st Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, ©1999 Ursula K. LeGuin, First Mariner Books Edition 2015, page 11.


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9 responses to “Write from the heart #amwriting

  1. I’m still exploring the idea of writing from the heart, and balancing between writing to perform or for my own enjoyment. I like your thoughts on this, as well as the resources you’ve included here. Thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I struggled with the balance too, because I love words in all shapes and sizes and like to use them. I found the balance by indulging in poetry when I wish, and keeping it separate from noveling (NaNoWriMo word, lol). I think everyone has to find their own way, though.


  2. “When poetry or good imagery emerges naturally, rejoice and keep writing.” I love that. I used to take every rejection to heart, but then I realized that it’s the perfect opportunity to learn more and to continue growing as a writer. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for the shout out for Larry and his pet sitting. He made my heart happy when writing about his imperfect but worthwhile ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Connie,

    I am so touched by your inclusion of Larry! Ellen

    Sent from my iPad


    Liked by 1 person