Two things happened recently that bothered me until I gave it all more thought and listened to wise counsel:
First, I’m in a writer’s critique group and while I often get praise for the chapters, I never get praise for the story. I get this – “well, it’s not the type of story I’d want to read…”. My stories are dark. Not mystery, murder and mayhem but my characters are struggling with trauma and/or suicidal ideation and/or mental health problems. I do write happy endings but it’s a rough road and never do I pretend my characters have “gotten through and are all fixed”.
Are my stories too ‘tough to read’? Does my author voice appeal on any level? Is my voice ‘bad’?
Second, I attended a great manuscript critique workshop (virtual). During the workshop, the bestselling author reviewed a chapter from two different drafts. The first was a memoir about a visit to the Middle East. The second was a mystery with a fun-loving, eccentric main character. I loved the mystery writer’s style. Her character was witty, her setting charming and eclectic. You could tell it was going to be a fun ride.
My first thought – I’d like to write something fun with a tiptoe through tulips feel.
But I wracked my brain to create a fun story – or at the very least a fun character. I let my mind wander and roam down different paths.
My mind never once landed on anything that would be labeled ‘light and fun’. Characters did begin to form but they were all hurting and asking me to tell their stories so they could work through the pain.
It’s hard to write and re-write and re-write again and think no one will want to read what I’ve worked so hard to create. And yet …
I spoke to my writing coach about this – I wasn’t complaining or even asking for how to change. I was more thinking out loud. She responded with:
"You have a voice for the people who struggle with mental illness. That’s important." ~ TL
I’m embracing that truth. Maybe one day, a light fluffy character will begin to talk to me. In the meantime, I’ll stick to the characters in my mind who are asking for their stories to be told.
We all know that most fictional characters carry some portion of the author within them – hopes, dreams, worries, fears, talents, family dynamics, friendships, loves, hates. So, if I can’t write “light and happy” did that mean I’m not light and happy?
I began to condemn myself for what I write, for my characters, for my plots. Is that ridiculous or insightful? Is it me that’s ‘too tough to’ be around? Or me that’s ‘too dark’? Am I ever fun and light or does a darkness within me color my stories and everything else?
Do you see how one tiny comment that wasn’t even about me can be a swirl of doubt, confusion and fear?
Well, f*ck that. I am not Pollyanna. But I’m happy and I’m honest and I have some great friends. I lift my middle finger to my self-critical monster.
I don’t strive to be a bestselling author. That has never been the goal. I write because a fictional character takes up residence in my heart and soul and won’t leave me alone until I put pen to paper.
If I let my characters live an authentic life, then I need to do the same! I’m not F*ing Pollyanna. I’m also not Negative-Nelly. I’m a happy mix of both.
*By the way, Dave says I am light and happy!
Click HERE to get my Journaling Activity on finding YOUR voice.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....