So how does a writer put “the secret” into action? Trying to teach a person how to do that is even harder than articulating the secret itself. It reminds me of the often-quoted Somerset Maugham line about writing. Maugham said: ““There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.”
In my years as a writer/editor/bookseller/bookmobile-driver, I’ve seen and heard it all from writers as to how they work. I’ve heard some authors say they write their very final paragraph first. That way they know where they’re going. Others write the middle first. Others can’t get past page one until it’s perfect.
So too with infusing your writing with the words that will help you capture a reader’s heart. I’m going to suggest a few things you might try….but with no guarantees. In short, most writers try one thing and then another until they stumble on what works for them.
But one vital element, it seems to me, is to come to the blank page full. You can’t give out what you don’t have. Come with your own internal passion, and come prepared to spill out that passion on the page. Another Maugham quote occurs to me here. He said, “I’ve always liked to let things simmer in my mind for a long time before setting them down on paper.” Depth doesn’t come in a single sitting. The best writing comes from brewing, stewing, and waiting.
Then as you write, write from the depths, not the shallows of your life. Reflect on your work. Come at it from different angles. Learn to feel your story before and as you write it. To be honest, most manuscripts I see tell a story, but it’s a passionless story. In such cases, I suspect the author has no passion for the story either—or they’ve not yet learned how to tap their passion and make it come out their fingertips and onto the keyboard.
One suggestion I’ve offered to writers who write without passion is to stop writing to a faceless entity you’re calling the reader. Instead, pretend you’re sitting across the table from your target reader at Starbuck’s. This person has come to you either asking advice or for a story that will move them. Envision your reader and warm up to them. Give the person a name, if necessary. And then talk to them on the page as if they’re your dearest friend.
Another way of looking at what I’m calling my secret is to borrow a phrase from Henry James. He talked about the need for “felt life” in good writing. What is “felt life?” Does anyone reading this want to try defining it for us? I know what it means, but I know it intuitively, and it’s hard to explain things one knows intuitively. And yet “felt life” is, to my mind, that very thing that reaches out from your heart to the heart of your reader. It is the secret.
What about you? What has worked in your writing? How do you invest your writing with felt life? How do you choose words that convey more than intellectual meaning? I’d really like to know.