Once a month, I'll be providing unsolicited advice - pro bono. Not as good as free cheese at a poetry reading, but not as bad as free head lice at a Cub Scout den meeting. I am relatively new to the literary scene, and my goal is to share my observations. I am happy to divulge the nuggets of wisdom that I obtain through my experiences as a Grub Street team member and English student at Towson University.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a poetry reading (with free cheese!) hosted by the Towson Literary Reading Series. Poet Abdul Ali read from his book, Trouble Sleeping, and afterwards answered questions from the audience. Someone asked what advice he had for young writers. To paraphrase, Ali said to write honestly. He said to tell your truth.
I am currently enrolled in a course called Advanced Writing Fiction. For the class, we write three short stories. Prompted by Ali, I decided to write a short story about sexual assault and self injury - two topics that have affected me personally. I was confident that I was ready to tell my truth and write honestly. During the in-class workshop, my piece received mixed reviews. Some people responded positively to my fictionalized experiences. Others criticized my protagonist (whom I based heavily on myself) as being too naïve and attention-seeking. It was a challenging process.
Despite some of the harsher critiques, I do not regret writing honestly. I wrote with my heart. I told a story that I was finally ready to tell, and I am pleased with the final result. For me, it was a healthy, therapeutic exercise to make fiction out of aspects of my life. Seizing the opportunity to write about something personal has made me a more empathetic reader. I felt myself growing as I worked on this piece. I am not sure I could have said the same thing had I tried to write something else.
It is difficult to write honestly, and it can be painful to tell your truth. But you are the only person who can do that. Your life experiences, thoughts, and feelings are yours alone. There is something sacred in making the conscious decision to record those truths, even privately. When you take the time to write, please take the time to know yourself. Take pleasure in your personal growth, and remember to be gentle.
The image above is "Flight" by Gillian Collins.