Friday, 21 October 2011

RETROFRIDAY - TO CRY OR NOT TO CRY?

Hello, Dear Readers - and a happy, happy Friday!

A couple of days of solid work on revising Big Secret Project Book One have put me in a much better mood than the one you saw on Wednesday (sorry about that - hope no one was traumatised), as have other factors which I'm not really allowed to talk to you about (but never fear, I'll share as soon as I'm given the OK). So don't worry. That beastie with the fangs and the manic eyes is well-and-truly back in the box
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For today's RetroFriday I have once again trawled through the perilous archives of the Zoë-Trope to find an article that some of you may not have seen before, or may enjoy reading again. I give you:

TO CRY OR NOT TO CRY?

Today, I have been crying. Not wailing, sobbing, or beating my breast, mind you. A few dignified, crystaline tears slipping down the cheeks, the odd sniff. That sort of thing. But fear not. Nothing bad has happened to your favourite author (second favourite? Third? Fine, an author you might have heard of once, maybe). I've just been re-writing some emotional scenes in FF.


I quite often get a little het up when I'm writing. I don't set out to do it. I'll just be reading some dialogue out loud to myself and suddenly there's a catch in my throat. Or maybe there's no dialogue, and I'm working hard to capture a certain, intense moment in a character's life, and suddenly PLOP, there's a tear there on the page. There have definitely been times when I've finished my day's work with swollen nose and eyes, and headed straight for the chocolate stash. Shadows on the Moon was probably my weepiest work - but TSK and DotF had their moments too. FF is coming out somewhere near Shadows, but I haven't finished revising yet. It may get worse (O Joy).

Since I've always been this way it never occurred to me to question it, and I probably assumed that most other authors were the same way (whether they admitted it or not) up until recently. I remember reading a quote once that said 'No tears in the author, no tears in the reader' and thinking: Well, I've got that covered anyway.

But it turns out there are some authors who scorn this kind of rampant emotionalism, and who say that it's all just silliness and getting carried away. Do carpenters weep over their dovetail joints, these writers ask? Does an engineer get emotional when applying his wrench? No! Writing, they say, is a craft, like any other, and in order to use the tools of craft correctly one must maintain a proper emotional distance and realise that IT'S ALL JUST FICTION ANYWAY FOR CRISSAKES!!!

And hey, before we start badmouthing these guys - we're talking Maggie Stiefvater, Meg Cabot and Veronica Roth here. People whose success and opinions need to be respected. I do respect them.

I'm not just not sure I really agree.

Of course I can see, logically, where writers who say things like this are coming from. Anyone who feels the way they do is absolutely right - when it comes to their own work. But it seems a little prescriptive to be implying that people who do get very emotionally involved with their characters are just being silly. Writers, like all people, are famously individual. One writer's block is another writer's inspiration.

Yes, writing is a craft. A craft like carpentry or engineering. It has its own tools and it can be learned and improved with practise. But it's also an art (I'm not being pretentious here, because I think anything, really anything, can be an art if you love it and do your absolute best with it and believe in it). And contrary to common belief, the stuff of a writer's art is not words. Words are the medium. Just like a glassblower uses glass as a medium in which to capture light, so a writer uses words as a medium to capture emotion.

That's what being a writer is all about, right? Whether we want to make people laugh, or get angry, or feel sad, or happy, the important thing is that they feel. We create characters and stories and worlds with the specific intention of influencing a reader's emotions, of changing their feelings in this minute with our story. A writer of fiction wants to engage the reader's heart - and sometimes, some of us need to invest our own to get that. If I can't believe in a character enough to forget, now and then, that they're not real, then I don't think my readers will ever feel my characters are real at all.

On the other hand, fairly recently a very successful author Who Shall Not Be Named (*cough*LaurellKHamilton*cough*) annoyed and amused a lot of authors, including me, by putting out a blog post where she claimed that writing her novels was so emotionally painful for her that it resembled being dismembered, and that she was bleeding on her keyboard. Which. You know. Euw. And her major point seemed to be that anyone who doesn't feel this way is a BIG FAT SELLOUT FAKE and NOT A REAL WRITER.

Eeep. Pretty sure I don't agree there either. Any activity which caused such intense pain that I felt like I was bleeding all over the place would not be for me. Isn't writing supposed to be fun? Yes, it's hard work. Yes, it's emotionally draining at times. Yes, it can also be frustrating and (let's not forget) BADLY PAID. But if you hate it so much that it hurts you, for Sweet Baby Jesus's sake stop it. Whether you're doing yoga, competitive tap-dancing or ecologically-friendly beaver wresting, there is a difference between 'good pain' (muscles working, sweat rising, feel the burn) and bad pain (oh my god with the ouchy and the stinging and the make it stttooooppp). We writers might like to pretend that we're all eccentric oddballs for laughs, but this level of angst is bordering on some kind of personality disorder.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is: there are a lot of people in the world who will be telling you This Is How To Be A Writer. Some of them will say things that seem dead on. Others will apparently be talking some strange crazy language that sounds like a penguin gacking up its breakfast. Take what you find useful and move on, and, ultimately, do what works for you and makes you want to write more.

Because no one likes Mr Judgy-Writer-Pants.

15 comments:

Amy Plum said...

I cry when I write some scenes - just as much as I do when I read the same sort of scenes in someone else's book. And I have to deep-breathe when I read to my husband because he thinks I'm completely insane for tearing up at my own writing. High five on the emotionalism!

Zoë Marriott said...

AMy: *High Five* Hurray! Peer confirmation! My family all think I'm kind of weird too - but I just don't know how to do it any other way.

Ros said...

When I edit my writing and it makes me laugh, or cry, or feel something, I know I'm doing something right and I should keep that bit in. It's when I feel nothing that I get worried. Or, you know, when I'm crying because it's crap.

So chalk up another member of team Kleenex.

Jenni (Juniper's Jungle) said...

Great post as usual, and you'd better add me to the list too - I've cried whilst writing my WIP.

Zoë Marriott said...

Ros: I know what you mean. That's basically the moment I live for - the moment when I forget I'm reading my own work and just laugh or cry the same way I would with any book. I need those moments to get me through the hours when I'm muttering 'crap, crap, crap' under my breath for pages at a time!

Jenni: Excellent. We should form a support group.

Terri said...

I love this post! My own writing has never made me cry, but maybe someday...

Rebecca Lindsay said...

I agree, I think all writers have their own technniques and if you cry it makes the scene you're writing seem more real and readers will be able to respond to it more.
What other writing habits has everybody got? This is going to sound really weird but I like to write my stories on paper first before I put it into my computer. It feels like the story is more alive and personal when you use a pen and paper. Like it's a little love triangle-you, the pen and the paper and together you create a story. So that's my habbit lol.
What's yours? :)

Zoë Marriott said...

Terri: it's still fine if it *doesn't*. The point is to let yourself work in whatever way feels natural to you and helps you be productive :)

Rebecca: Well, you already know that I write with pencil and paper first, so it can't be that weird. Right? RIGHT?

Isabel said...

Agreed! That blog post about the bleeding keyboard was just weird, though. The worst part was how accusing and judgmental she was being. Jeez, get over yourself! If you think it's wrong for somebody not to feel as if they are being torn apart and having their insides strewn across their keyboard as they write, then you have a bit of a problem. Just take some deep breaths and move on. Okay?

Zoë Marriott said...

Isabel: My little girl is growing up. *Wipes away a tear*

Rebecca Lindsay said...

Zoe: I forgot that you write yours down first too :) I'm kind of glad because all my friends who write do it straight into their computers and think I'm giving myself extra work by writing it first lol

Zoë Marriott said...

Rebecca: if you're anything like me you're actually saving yourself a LOT of work later on, because by working it out on paper, the 'first' draft that you have typed onto your computer is actually more like a second or third one, which means you need to revise much less.

Isabel said...

Zoë: It's been almost a year since you first posted this! And I'm still around... you might never be able to get rid of me... :P

(I have grown up quite a lot though, it's true. :))

Lynsey Newton said...

I will admit to crying when writing hard scenes and I don't feel ashamed of it and I don't think it's wrong. It just is what it is.

Zoë Marriott said...

Lynsey: Exactly :)

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