Somebody’s trying to tell me something. These are a couple of the cards I received for my recent birthday.
And this is the bag that contained a few birthday gifts.
For several months now (has it been years?), I’ve been talking about getting another cat. I’ve been feline free since I lost my darling Rumi in 2012. I mean what kind of writer am I that I don’t have a cat?
We writers are a quirky lot with our habits, superstitions, and idiosyncrasies—whatever we believe it takes to get the attention of the muse or elicit inspiration. I have a friend who has a particular hat… another friend who insists on a certain pen… one who places a goofy little figure beside her computer while she writes and puts it away again when she’s done. And oh there are so many others.
Into the Deep
Sometimes a writer skims on top of a subject. Or is too nice. Maybe the writing is glib and clever and even funny, or the story moves along from plot point to plot point, but the piece is shallow as a wading pool. The facts are there, maybe even shocking or dramatic facts, but there’s no emotion beneath them.
If the piece lacks honesty the reader may feel cheated. The writer, too. To discover what you really have to say, what matters to you, what your story is about, take some time and go deeper.
Here are a few ways to go deeper in your writing:
- Put a comma at the end of a sentence, rather than a period, and go a little further.
- Look for doors to go through, openings that take you deeper into the piece. After you’ve written a scene or a section, read through and see where openings to “show” offer an opportunity to go deeper.
- Ask your characters the kind of questions that matter. Risky questions. (Ask yourself, too.)
- Go for details. The telling detail. Write the concrete, the sensory, the specific. Upon rewriting and editing, you’ll choose the details that work hardest.
- S-l-o-w d-o-w-n. Sometimes we’re so anxious to get to the end of what we’re writing we go too fast, skipping over parts that cry out for deeper attention.
- Do a sensory inventory. Bring the physical world alive through writing about the senses. Let the words you use to describe them create the atmosphere you want.
- Don’t just write actions. Go inside. What does the character think? Feel? How does she respond? (If you’re writing nonfiction remember you’re the “character.”)
- Write specifics rather than generalities.
- Play off the landscape. Let the place or the setting deepen the story.
- Look for pulled punches. Where did you play it safe? Did you cheat the scene or the character, or yourself?
- Look closer. Close your eyes and write what you see on the screen in your mind. Write the pictures.
- How does it feel? Ask yourself or ask your character. Breathe and feel the emotion, and write what you felt.
- Dance with your shadows. Acknowledge the parts of yourself and your characters that are a little shady, less that what might be acceptable or appropriate. This is where it gets interesting.
- “Look long at what pleases you, longer still at what disturbs you.” -Colette
- Use metaphor and simile. Symbols and echoes.
- Tell your secrets. Tell your character’s secrets. Be willing to be vulnerable on the page.
- Follow memories, let them take you into deeper places. You won’t use all of what you unearth, but you can make use of it— sometimes just an image, a phrase, the tattered edge of something.
- Risk writing long to go deeper. You can always go back and prune away. Better to write 1000 words and cut 900, than to leave out the 100 words that takes the writing to a deeper place.
- Get yourself out of the way and surrender to the page.
Close your eyes and dive in. You won’t drown; you’re a writer, you can breathe underwater.