Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Trust Your Voice

We're told to follow our heart, yet to use our head. That sounds like prudent advice and applicable in many situations. But too often rationality mums gut feelings and smothers our true self. Does your heart speak to you? Let its voice be heard. 

I'm telling myself the above as an 84,000-word manuscript beckons. This work in process, titled Forgiveness, awaits revision, editing, and being send into the world. Another month or so and I'll be looking for beta readers who'll give me feedback. More critical than your average reader or especially fans (such as a loving spouse or best friend) they'll offer me an honest review. Those who read like writers will comment on theme, premise, characters, plot, structure, style, grammar and voice.
This won't be the first time. During the writing and development of an earlier book, I shared sections with my critique group. I wrote and rewrote, edited, re-envisioned and edited once again. Only after I'd finished the sixth version did I deem the text worthy to be printed as a whole and read by trustworthy beta readers. I cradled each of my babies in a box and sent them off. How would my story be perceived? As a writer and artist I've learned that every single person will see something else in a creation.

We all have our own perspective, each and every one of us has a life experience that's unique and colors our perception. In critiquing one another's work and receiving critique, we have to remember that. What's true for us is not necessarily true for the other. With that in mind we focus on craft, not values.

cover art by J.v.P.
My five beta readers were brave to take on the hefty load I laid in their laps. Creative Acts of Healing: after a baby dies with its in your face subtitle, isn't poolside literature, although one of them did read most of the book while soaking in her bathtub. While they hadn't suffered a similar loss, Creative Acts of Healing made them remember their own, or others' sorrows. I was and am grateful for their conscientious approach. I understand how difficult it must have been to look at this material in an objective manner, to not let personal feelings take over. In going over her notes one of my readers said there was a certain instant where she didn't believe me (or the narrator, as we writers call the main character, even if we're writing a memoir). Now this is a big deal. You want your readers to trust you.
The phrase my reader objected to?

"She will not want us to become embittered."

"Too Buddha-like," she said, "Impossible."

My reader could not believe that I (the narrator) would be able to say such a thing to my husband while holding our lifeless Ariane Eira in my arms. At that very moment I made the mistake I still regret. I stifled the voice from within and deleted that line.

One of the biggest no-no's in writing fiction after life is to insist on the supposed truth, saying: "But that is how it happened." For what really happened usually doesn't have enough drama, or on the contrary is over the top. In writing non-fiction however, this may accentuate the essence of the experience. That we chose not to become embittered by our loss, has saved my husband and my relationship and in the long run our happiness. 
Looking at the manuscript of Forgiveness, I vow I will make sure I won't be seduced by another person's beliefs. I will let my heart speak.
How about you?

Trust Your Voice was previously published on January 22, 2012, on Katherine Jenkins' blog Lessons From The Monk I Married as part of her January 2012 extravaganza: 31 Writers, 31 Lessons.

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