Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing With An Eye Toward Literature

Writing is healing, but it can also be emotionally and psychically draining. Over the summer as I worked on my novel and sent it out to readers for their feedback, I felt the effort had taken a toll on my body and soul.

My readers are professional writers, trained social workers, psychologists and family. They read the work with an eye toward character, motivation and psychology. 

What motivates a person to do what they do? Are they repeating the self-defeating behaviors perpetrated in their family, generation after generation?

Every writer needs to be a psychologist in his or her own right, a keen observer of human nature. She needs a fair modicum of emotional intelligence. Good writers see the complexity of their characters; this is the stuff of literature. Poorly written stories present cardboard characters, black and white images . . . caricatures.

Whether memoir or fiction, it often takes a toll on the writer's mind and soul as she digs deep, searches within the far recesses of her mind to remember, comprehend and present with empathy what drives a person to do what ultimately leads to his downfall – or renewal.

That's the value of literature – the story well told that represents the human condition. In a day and age where the superficial story, the hackneyed plot, the lack of writing craft pervades brick and mortar and digital bookstores, the value of literature for individuals and our society as a whole deepens.

I discovered this article in TIME magazine entitled Reading Literature Makes us Smarter and Nicer: "Deep reading" is vigorous exercise for the brain and increases our real-life capacity for empathy.

In part, it states: “Deep reading” — as opposed to the often superficial reading we do on the Web — is an endangered practice, one we ought to take steps to preserve as we would a historic building or a significant work of art. Its disappearance would imperil the intellectual and emotional development of generations growing up online, as well as the perpetuation of a critical part of our culture: the novels, poems and other kinds of literature that can be appreciated only by readers whose brains, quite literally, have been trained to apprehend them."

For the writer - penning the deeper story, the one that plumbs the depths of the human condition takes tremendous effort. It's why writers often smoked or drank themselves to death. In the end, however, it is our job – our obligation to our readers - to write the dark and the light; portray what drives and motivates people in our own little corner of the world, like Jane Austen, one of my favorite authors, did.

Her genius resided in painting indelible portraits of the contemporaries of her time and place from wealthy young men searching for wives, old maids, squires and country gentlemen and clergymen. She wrote what she knew and lived.

This past week I took a break from the rigors of writing a complex story. I traveled to places that serve as touchstones to my past – the beauty of Pennsylvania’s small towns, as if in them I might slow down, take a deep breath and revel in summer; maybe even regain some lost innocence. 

I saw a comedic play by a local playwright, enjoyed conversation with a close friend, ordered homemade gazpacho watermelon soup . . . sat in a small coffee shop with a view of the street where American flags flew from corniced window tops.

I sat on a bench and watched ducks glide along the Delaware River, their green and brown feathers bristling in the sunlight as they shook water off their sleek bodies. I took a deep breath, appreciating the beauty of my surroundings, no timetable. I owed it to myself and my story to restore my energy.

What about you? How do you restore yourself from the rigors of writing?

No comments: