Real Writing and Your Feelings

Some people think writing is about expressing their feelings. They throw a bunch of their words at a page in ragged, poetry-type lines and say they are poets. They throw words at a page in prose-type lines and say they are a novelist. Because their feelings got expressed. And I say, bullsh-t.

Novels and poetry are a form of communication. They are supposed to be understood by other people. Expressing random feelings on paper may make you feel better, but those words don’t communicate well. You have to write with other people— your conversation partners— in mind.

The feelings-expressers are not at heart self-centered people. They have simply been mis-educated. They have been told to do finger paintings and later write prose and poems just to ‘express themselves.’ And no matter how bad their work is, they get the same level of praise as someone who is actually brilliant.

No wonder they are missing the point. Real writing is like a marathon. It’s hard to do, and there is likely only one winner. We can’t all be the best poet in the world or the best novelist in the world. And being the best matters, because being good matters.

Most writing, even the bad, self-indulgent stuff, has something of good in it somewhere. And that is a start. But as real writers we don’t just want one or two good bits in our work. We want lots of good bits, and we want to improve our writing day by day so we get even more good bits. We want to write books that are all the good stuff and none of the bad or pathetic stuff. We want to be the best, even if it’s not the best novelist ever but just the best contemporary Amish vampire fiction writer.

This doesn’t mean that there is no room for a fiction writer to express some feelings. But it has to be part of a good story or no one will see that expression of feelings. And when you are an emotionally mature writer, you can think on whether that desired feeling-expression helps or harms the story in general. (I recently started reading a Stephen King book which started out dull, and then he put in an anti-Trump rant. Since he clearly no longer cares about those readers who don’t share his politics or who mind dull story-beginnings, I quit reading at that point.)

We need to overcome that kindergarten-level view of creative work as something that wins everyone praise, and realize that we need to get good as writers. Maybe we only have the gifts to get a little good in some well-defined corner of the fiction world, but we want to be as good as we can be— and then get just a wee bit better.



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