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Write from the Heart

December 7, 2011

Let me tell you a brief story. Seven years ago I wrote an inspirational essay about my mother. For those many years, it languished in a desk drawer. Why? Because it was deeply personal. By sending it out into the world, I knew I would be revealing my heart. I would be vulnerable and I risked appearing maudlin, too serious – at worst, foolish.

Still, something within me whispered, “Share it. It might touch others.” At the last minute I sent it into a prestigious writing competition and it placed well among thousands of entries.

What’s my point in telling you this? I believe as writers we are challenged to “write from the heart.” Terrifying? You bet. But plumbing such depths is also what I believe to be our calling as writers. When we have the courage to be authentic  – when we dare visit and share those deep, hidden places with their fears, sorrows and memories – then our writing in some mysterious way also touches a universal chord.

In her book Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott writes: “So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don’t worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraudulent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this.”

One example is Jeanette Walls who touches the heart with grace and honesty in her memoir The Glass Castle. And while non-fiction, memoirs and essays may lend themselves more easily to writing from the heart, what about fiction? Even there, we must enter our inner chambers of heartfelt feelings to help characters discover their own.

Reflect for a minute on those books that touched you most. What heroines or heroes made you cry, laugh, or breathe a sigh of hope because they spoke, loved and struggled from the heart? Was it Lily in The Secret Life of Bees or Jane Eyre or Mariam and Laila in A Thousand Splendid Suns? In these protagonists we discover our humanity, our common journey. We discover our own hearts.

How do we write from the heart? I have no definitive answers. I do believe, however, we must make room to hear what our hearts are telling us. For some it may be meditation, prayer, gardening or a walk in the woods. Ultimately, it’s allowing ourselves a receptive space where we can get out of our heads and into the sacred place where our own truth resides. And then, we must have the courage to put ourselves on paper for others to see.

It’s a lofty challenge but according to Roger Rosenblatt the only one of worth. In his latest book, Unless it Moves the Human Heart: The Art and Craft of Writing he states, “Nothing you write will matter unless it moves the human heart … and the heart you must move is corrupt, depraved and desperate for your love … you must write as if your reader needed you desperately, because he does.”

The final words in the book are even more compelling: “For all its frailty and bitterness, the human heart is worthy of your love. Love it. Have faith in it. Both you and the human heart are full of sorrow. But only one of you can speak for that sorrow and ease its burdens and make it sing – word after word after word.”

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2011 5:04 AM

    A lovely blog. Something all writers need to read once in a while. Thank you.

  2. December 8, 2011 7:13 AM

    Thank you so much, Sheila, for your kind comments. And thanks for taking the time to stop by and visit our blog. You are most welcome any time!

  3. December 8, 2011 5:39 PM

    Excellent advice, Marielena – a reminder we all need now and then.

  4. December 12, 2011 9:55 PM

    Beautifully said, Marielena. It’s hard to do that, to expose that much of yourself, but it does make a much more powerful story you aim for the heart.

  5. December 13, 2011 7:03 AM

    Thanks so much for your kind words, Ellis. I appreciate you stopping by our blog and commenting. And congrats on your latest book, “Cold Comfort.” Looks like a terrific read!

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