One Writer’s Identity Crisis

This past weekend was challenging for me as a writer. I headed up north for the short story contest, where the prompt was “pit bull in pink chiffon.” Such a great prompt, right? I was excited to write something cute and funny within the three-hour limit.

*Sigh*

Naturally my muse was feeling more of a sad and heartbreaking vibe. She seems to really like the dark, the morose, the disturbing. I went with it, trusting her to lead me down the right path, and created a story that I am really proud of.

And then I left the contest, got in my car to drive home, and started bawling.

Writing gritty stories about real (often ugly) human emotions/situations makes me feel like I am making meaning of something in the world that I don’t understand. These stories feel true to who I am as a writer. I have repeatedly been told that my writing voice is authentic and honest, and people have strong responses to my stories. Unfortunately, part of their response is that they don’t want to be left with the thoughts that my writing evokes. In other words, people feel engaged with my writing, but nobody wants to read the kinds of stories I write.

So do I stay true to my authentic writing voice/style (which everything inside me screams OF COURSE!) or do I try and write something else that feels fake and superficial but might be more accepted by readers? This of courses morphs into the question: If I don’t stay true to myself when writing, then why bother writing? And as I struggle with these questions I start equating no one wanting to read my work with the idea that what I am producing is worthless (which then causes me to feel worthless).

This was my 40-minute drive home. Fun, huh? And the funk continued after I got home. I reached out to several author friends, but it wasn’t until I contacted a woman I met at a conference last year that I felt like someone could truly empathize. The extremely talented K. Lyn Wurth had introduced me to her novel The Darkwater’s Liar Account by mentioning that it had some darker themes and might not be for everyone. (I remember trying not to laugh when she said this as I had just written one of my darkest shudder-worthy pieces the week before.) So when I reached out to her, she was able to go right to the heart of the matter.

You absolutely, most certainly, forever must write what feels true to you. … You need to claim and be tenacious about your own authority to write. It may not be what the general population wants to read, but only by taking that authority and following it will you ever write anything meaningful.

(Yes, I am currently figuring out a way to tattoo her words on my hands so I see them 24/7, especially when writing.)

She’s absolutely right. Without truth and authority, meaning is nonexistent. Sure I would be excited to find a group of readers who looked forward to reading my stories, but changing my stories to find more readers would be like me joining the NFL: I would have nothing to add and no way to really communicate with the other players. It would be more isolating than if I never left my house again. Plus, those big guys would just steamroll me.

So I will continue to write the stories that speak to me. I will continue to explore the characters that I find complex and intriguing, even if they aren’t the most popular people at the party. I will continue to write and publish and if I connect with a reader or two along the way, then I will get all giddy for a bit before buckling down to write some more.

With this background, I think my response to Charli Mills’ 99-word writing challenge over at the Carrot Ranch probably makes more sense. The theme this week was to write a frozen story. Once again, Charli is reading my mind as I have been frozen in my writing for several days.

Numb

I chew the ice cubes, softened by my chemical caffeine, and press the splintered chunks against the roof of my mouth, my tongue molding them back into a lump that crunches once again between my molars. I remember my dentist’s admonishment and cringe. But he is not facing the white wasteland on my screen. Siberia would feel more tropical. One by one, I pluck words from my veins, peppering the wintry expanse with markers to lead non-existent tourists through the hinterlands. Chewing and plucking, I create a story upon a lonely dais that increasingly feels like an icy tomb.

***

If you’re looking for a fabulously luscious novel, check out K. Lyn Wurth’s The Darkwater’s Liar Account

Darkwater

Love and lies led young Bridget into Nazi entanglement, through war-torn Europe, and across an ocean to her Nebraska farm. With secrets under the floor and graves in her garden, Bridget’s a double wife living a double life as a legacy of retribution climbs her farmhouse stairs. When she discovers a tattered ledger, the empty pages invite her to confession, but can Bridget balance her accounts before the past breaks down her door?

 

Comments

  • I wonder if what you feel is the same for all writers who write into their truth regardless of what is produced? Best retreat I ever went on was to Writer’s Soul at a Franciscan Spirituality Center in Wisconsin. The writer’s journey is the hero’s journey when you write into your truth. If you know your voice, you know your truth. Yet it feels vulnerable. I can’t tell you how inadequate I feel this week, to the point of feeling locked in an icy tomb of my own making. And I don’t write dark, so that’s not it! Besides, look at how successful Stephen King is…your audience is hot there and they will resonate with your words because they resonate with you. Some people are not afraid of dark stories or characters; they are afraid of truth. Keep at it!

    Charli MillsNovember 11, 2015
    • I have never had a problem with writing my authentic voice, which is not surprising given the three-dimensional being that houses said voice has been accused on more than one occasion of being “too honest” (as if that’s a bad thing…I still don’t get it—and I’m not talking being too honest in an insulting way, but rather being too honest in not trying to manipulate situations, laying all my cards on the table, gushing forth like the waters through open flood gates). I just don’t know any other way to be. (Hence, the 3 am rambling emails to people 🙂 ) Staying true to yourself is supposed to be this idealistic goal we all reach for, but what happens when we do and there is no rush of success, no feeling of achievement, but instead doubts and questions of self-worth? (And I like who I am and I like what I write, so it’s not that.) I dunno… Maybe it’s the changing seasons. Or maybe visitors from another planet have turned their stun guns to Vulnerable, Self-doubting, and Inadequate. Today my corner of the plains is drowning in a thick foggy soup, which doesn’t help. And I mark another year on this planet today, so there is always the period of reflection that entails. Hmm, nope, I’m gonna stick with the aliens story 😉

      C. JaiNovember 11, 2015
  • I feel for the questions and doubts in the body of your post. I think self-doubt is in most writers’ toolboxes. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times we try to misplace it or lose it “on purpose”, it keeps showing up. I guess the question begs: who are you writing for? There are many slick ways of mass producing books for audiences, so I am led to believe. But they seem hollow and are definitely not authentic. I agree with Charli. The audience is out there, and when you find them, they will appreciate the honesty of your voice. While writers say they write for themselves, I think we all want that audience too. Finding that just right, just you voice that others want to read, that is your task.
    Your flash is a brilliant piece of writing which evokes so vividly the sentiments expressed in your post. You definitely have a brilliant quill.

    Norah ColvinNovember 12, 2015
    • Questions are the bread and butter of the writing soul, are they not? As long as we’re asking, we’re growing 😉 Thanks for stopping by!

      C. JaiNovember 12, 2015
  • Not everyone is going to like your writing and that is okay…you don’t like everyone’s writing either right?

    As a matter of fact., it is actually very important to stand out from the crowd and present something unique…you want readers to remember you for your distinctive voice, not because you remind them of someone else…

    And you have accomplished that. And there are several people who love your dark, deeply emotional writing style ( we are big fans!).

    Even those who say they like what you write but don’t like your story endings, are fans…you manage to trigger something in them. As long as that happens, they will read you. They will still be reading your work, even though they don’t like everything.

    We too, view writing as a form of therapy…art is a form of therapy. It makes you dig deep and what you find in there is not always pleasant, but it is realisic, it is food for mind and soul.

    So keep feeding minds and souls….it is a great journey.

    Hope you have a new story book ready soon!

    • Excellent words of wisdom! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      C. JaiNovember 14, 2015
  • You are too kind, C. Jai, and once again supportive of my (dark) work, too. Thank you, author(itative) friend. I cherish your belief in my stories, as well.

    Write on…

    K. Lyn WurthNovember 17, 2015

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