Anyone who knows me or reads my rantings over at Sami’s Scribbles will already know I’ve suffered horribly with a form of writer’s block the past year (and a half, but who’s counting?). I’ve been able to start stories, oh so many of them, but it’s the finishing part that has caused me the biggest problem. And as a prerequisite to a career in publishing is the ability to be able to offer up complete manuscripts, this has become somewhat of a problem for me.
After the RWA conference in Sydney, where I pitched a partial I had written to a US agent and was asked to send it to her, I hit a crisis point. I knew in my gut that I couldn’t send through the book I’d been working on. Yes, if I put my nose right to the grindstone I could get it finished based on the synopsis I’d drafted. I could send her something quite all right. But my book just wasn’t good enough. It didn’t represent me or what I know I’m capable of as a writer, when I’m on my game. With regret, I emailed that agent and apologised for not sending the requested work, admitting the simple truth. Like Tin Man on his way to Oz, my story just didn’t have a heart.
For me this is the most important thing you can put into a book. It’s more vital than having a great premise, or a fantastic plot or even compelling characters. The book has to have a life of its own. It has to say something—by that I don’t necessarily mean something existential or world changing. Your message could be a simple one about family, love, redemption or courage. The complexity of the message isn’t what’s important. The passion with which it’s delivered is.
So how does a writer ensure their book has heart? I imagine it’s different for everyone. I’ve come to the realisation I just can’t work within tightly constructed plots without killng my passion for the story. Neither can I force my ideas to fit into a predesigned mold. I can’t take something I wrote in my free wheeling manner and ‘tweak’ it to fit a specific publishing company’s requirements. None of us can truly ‘tweak’ ourselves, and if we’ve written the book we are supposed to write it will reflect who we are. Take out certain elements and it’s no longer what we intended. We might still write capably. We might even sell. If so we could make a buck or two. But is that really all we want? Is that why we write?
This was meant to be a critique of Stephen King’s On Writing which recently helped me arrive at a few conclusions about how I need to proceed with my work, but the post is already too long so I’ll save that for next week. For now I’ll leave you to ponder a few questions:
What is at a book’s heart to you? What are you passionate about? Why do you write?