Monday, June 18, 2012

If I have to cry to write this next book, somebody is going to be in trouble.

Ever have the feeling the universe is trying to stuff something into your big, fat, ugly head? Maybe it’s not so much a “woo-woo” experience as it is your inner mind focusing on something before it tells your everyday mind about it. Sort of like I kept seeing pregnant women right before I decided I wanted to have a baby. (And what was I thinking then?) I don’t like subliminal messages from myself. I rely on my normal shallow nature to protect me from deep emotion.

Last October, Cricket McRea, author of the Home Crafting Mystery series, posted a blog about Splat.  This is a technique for discovering the inner workings of your own mind so you can plumb the depths of your fear and anxiety to create more complex and interesting characters.

Now doesn’t that sound like fun?

At the 2011 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s Colorado Gold Conference, I attended a three-hour workshop given by romantic suspense writer and amazing writing coach, Laura Baker, of Story Magic fame. The workshop was entitled The Fearless Writer: Discovering Your Story. Among the eye-opening and light bulb-illuminating tidbits in this workshop, Laura walked us through a bit of psychoanalysis all in the name of finding a good story. Talk about stepping out of my six inch deep comfort zone.

At the most basic, The Fearless Writer course is about discovering what made you begin writing. Before you learned you couldn’t write because you didn’t know about stimulus and response and point of view and voice and character arcs and turning points, what gave you the passion to tell the story inside of you?

Before we can answer this question, we have to go through a series of exercises, dredging up all the good, bad and ugly we’ve squirreled away throughout our lives and find out what our purpose is in storytelling. Like cats, some of us are particularly good and burying our, ahem, “unpleasantness.” And like Methuselah, some of us have enough years on our bones to have accumulated a lot of said “unpleasantness.”

Laura had us look at stories and characters we found easiest to write and those we couldn’t complete. Using our own life experiences, we drew links to our stories and can then discover what our strengths are as writers. The exercises took the pain and joy in our past and associated that emotional gunk (that’s my technical term) with our stories to find themes we return to.

I’m not about to tell you all the personal dysfunction I discovered in just three hours of this workshop. It’s embarrassing how much of my therapy has been worked out in the pages of my books. But it makes for some particularly flawed characters with lots of growth potential. Obviously, Laura’s workshop is way more involved than what I’ve plastered here and I urge you to check it out on her Fearless Writer site.

When I fearlessly and foolishly decided I wanted to be a writer, no one told me I was going to have to pull out all the nasty little bugs hiding in the dark recesses of my brain. Like spiders in my house, I’m way happier if I don’t see them. I’m not all that into self awareness, we shallow people shy away from that. I have honed the art of denial until I’m a true master. And now the dagnabbed universe is banging me on the head with a sledgehammer and telling me to dig deeper. Fine, okay, I’m not stupid, I get the message. But if I have to cry to write this next book, somebody is going to be in trouble.

What about you? Do you enjoy the process of baring your soul, even in disguise, in your work?

By Shannon Baker

Shannon Baker's first thriller, Ashes of the Red Heifer, is available in trade paperback and ebook at your favorite online bookseller. The first book in her Nora Abbott mystery series, Tainted Mountain, will be available in early 2013 from Midnight Ink.

Originally posted 10/7/11 on the Sisters of the Quill blog


Patricia Stoltey said...

Shannon, I say I hate baring my soul, but there's so much me in my two Sylvia and Willie mysteries it's downright creepy. Maybe that's the real reason we write?

Chris Devlin said...


Great Deep Thoughts, cheers!

When I was first writing, I opened a vein and let it spill every time. My early stuff is kind of Kafka-esque in its existential darkness. I think I like to have more fun with writing now, and also make it less insular to just me and my subconscious carrying on a family feud in public.

However, I don't write nearly as much as I used to, so that's something to think about. My inner demons were much more productive than I am. ;-)

At Denver Comic Con this last weekend, I heard the actor James Marsters talk. (He played Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) He said, for him, the best roles were the ones that scared the heck out of him, because facing his worst fears was great fodder for a creative person.