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Leave a Mark

Leave a Mark

Write what you know, they say. And that’s all well and good—my own personal history definitely helped me bring the musical and political elements of Believe in Me to life. But if you aspire to do more than just render interesting tidbits of fact in fictional form, you need to do more than just write about the things you’re familiar with. You have to write about the things that trigger your emotions, that provoke you somehow—the things you love or hate or fear or covet, that make you sad or angry or deliriously happy. The moments that leave a mark.

Years ago when our kids were younger, whenever conversation would begin to lag at the dinner table, we would invite them to take turns talking about their favorite thing from the day just passed. It could be anything—going to a friend’s house, playing with our cats, eating cherries, sitting in a sunbeam. Anything.

The same sort of axiom holds for writing. When in doubt—when the conversation between imagination and conscious mind lags for a moment—write about the things that you’re passionate about. If you have no emotional stake in the story you’re writing, neither will your reader. Consider the kinds of people and subjects and situations that push your buttons, set your sights on whatever it is that most burdens or excites or frustrates or astonishes you, and charge straight for it. Wrestle it to the floor and pull it apart and inspect it from every angle you can imagine.

My favorite thing, just about any day that it happens, is that one idea, that one moment or word that lifts a story or scene up out of the everyday muck and propels it into fresh new territory, a place of uncertainty, power and danger, a place with the potential to leave a mark on reader and writer alike. Taking that risk isn’t just okay; it’s the whole point of writing at all. Go there. Leave a mark.

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