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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Flashwrite #9: Who Cares?

This week’s episode is about telling a story that matters. I don’t have much in the way of notes for this one, although I did touch on something tangential in this blog post: Be Remarkable.

Where does memoir fit in to all this? A good memoir, too, is bigger than the one who writes it. You know I’m a huge fan of Bird By Bird, which is the absolute best example I can think of; there’s a ton of personal experience in that book (no holds barred, as they say–Anne Lamott even tells you she snorted cocaine like an anteater), but it’s all in service of the greater point. Through memoir, the author helps people develop their own writing practice…and get comfortable with their writerly neuroses (as she herself so clearly has).

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The first thing I ask myself when I come up with a new story idea is, “Who cares?” Is this story bigger than I am? Will I be able to tap into something universal, or am I just indulging myself?

By now you know that I believe everyone should write; however, not all writing is art. Some writing is catharsis, and that’s a beautiful thing, a necessary thing; and some writing we can classify as “a good start”; and some writing, frankly, is not going to amount to much more than it already is, and that’s fine too. But it’s not art.

I want to talk a little bit about the universal cliché of writing, which is “write what you know.” What I’m saying is, you can write what you know, but don’t write it exactly [as] you know it. It’s got to go through the crucible. Take all of your raw material and put it through the metaphorical crucible, and what comes out will be so much bigger than the initial vision that you had for your story.

So that’s the question I’d like you to ask yourself this week–“who cares?” And I don’t mean that in a scoffing or negative way; if you ask yourself this question, hopefully your mind will explode afterward with really wonderful tangential ideas, and you’re going to start fleshing things out, and that’s great. But if you get the little nagging feeling that maybe this story falls into the navel-gazing category, it’s a good question to ask yourself because then you’ll know. I have met several writers who are working on manuscripts that are probably never going to be published (in fact, they’re definitely never going to be published) because they’re writing things that haven’t been through the crucible. They haven’t translated this story into something that is bigger than themselves.

By now you’re probably wondering if I have an example I can give you. I want to talk to you again a little bit about my first novel, Mary Modern, which came out in 2007. The thing about this book is that I wouldn’t have written it if my grandmother hadn’t died, and the book is about a scientist who clones her grandmother. So I could have (and I’m sure I did) sat down and wrote a story about a girl who loses her grandmother, and cries and cries, and feels really rotten, et cetera. That’s not art, that’s catharsis. What I was able to do with this book–or hope I was able to do–is turn my private grief into something [more], so that anyone can read this book and feel what these characters are feeling. And that is art. So that’s what I’m talking about.

For this week, I’d like you to build on Flashwrite #7, the mind-mapping exercise. Why not try this with a particular story idea, and apply the question of “who cares?” See where that takes you. Keep asking yourself these kind of “tough love” questions, because your story will be so much richer for it, and so much more worth writing and more worth reading.

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(All Flashwrite episodes here.)

1 Comment to Flashwrite #9: Who Cares?

  1. crazyliberalkate's Gravatar crazyliberalkate
    March 3, 2013 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t it all art? Just some if it is not worth sharing?

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.