Writing: Finding your own story

Yesterday, I read this post from Brain Pickings titled, “Good Writing vs. Talented Writing.” It discusses what literary critic Samuel Delany has to say about the craft in his book, About Writing: Seven Essays, Five Letters and Four Interviews. It really resonated with me, this part in particular:

Good writing is clear. Talented writing is energetic. Good writing avoids errors. Talented writing makes things happen in the readers mind — vividly, forcefully — that good writing, which stops at clarity and logic, doesn’t.”

I have a story in my brain that I started writing many years ago. I had a lot of great starts, then I’d hit a creative wall. Looking back, I think that I had no idea what I wanted to say or what issues I wanted to explore. A story about an interracial couple. Okay, what about them? Even ten years ago, I intuitively knew it needed to be about much more than their family/friends/co-workers don’t like the relationship. Outrageous plot-twists and secret-keeping sounded good at first, but once it got onto paper, it didn’t feel right for this story.

Another issue I struggled with was character development. Every writer does, but the main reason for my struggles were this: as a Christian at the time, I thought I had to weave a gospel message into the story. As a result, my characters were flat and boring. They also lacked clear, realistic motivations. I was attempting to wrench in a religious message at the expense of creating relatable, complex characters. And the final message of salvation, even then, felt incomplete and empty. What did I really want to communicate to my reader? Did I want to lecture them and manipulate their feelings or just present an experience and let them create their own meaning? Did I want to tell my own story, or a story I think I should be telling? Ultimately, self-censorship will never produce a good story.

Now, after maturing a bit, having different life experiences and leaving religion behind, I feel like I’ve grown as a person and can write from a more authentic place. Authentic for me, to be clear. This will be different for everyone. And shrugging off the shackles of religion is by no means the only way to grow as a person. But religion can indeed be a hinderance to personal growth (particularly the fundamentalist kind).