“I don’t want to tell you all about me. I want to tell you all about you.”

If you learn to organize your desires and demands and shoot them into something that is more than just about being you, you start to communicate. … I will steal directly from life [but] I don’t want to tell you all about me. I want to tell you all about you.

Bruce Springsteen

photo by Bill Ebbessen

I find this quote from the Boss in my current non-fiction read, A Muse and a Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery and Magic, by Peter Turchi.

Turchi is an academic: he teaches creative writing at the University of Houston, and his list of published works is about writing rather than writing itself. You know what I mean: he’s got a novel and a short story collection out, but his reputation is made on non-fiction books like A Muse and a Maze, and the earlier Maps of the Imagination: the Writer as Cartographer—which I haven’t read yet, and, with Charles Baxter, Bringing the Devil to His Knees: the Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life. He’s also co-edited, with Andrea Barrett, two collections of essays by writers about writing, A Kite in the Wind: Fiction Writers on their Craft and The Story Behind the Story: 26 Stories by Contemporary Writers and How They Work… which I also haven’t read, but am now adding to my reading list, because, I’m not writing right now, and when I don’t write, I read. (That’s my process: that’s also my way of ensuring that I feel I am engaged in process even when I’m not putting words down on paper. I’m not writing: I’m reading, critically, purposefully—for a writer, that’s practice.)

(I’m also reading for pure, unalloyed, abandoned pleasure, burning through Sherry Thomas’ Lady Sherlock series, OMFG, so good, I have a new favourite, and how much do I love it when I discover a new author with a fat backlist, YES!)

Anyway. Back to Turchi.

A Muse and a Maze is the work of someone who loves language, loves books, love stories, and loves process, and who also, in this book, casts himself as the Pen and Teller of fiction. He’s telling you—us—how the tricks are done. But, kittens! Knowing how the tricks are done… it just makes you appreciate them all the more when you’re working to be a master magician yourself, right?

A quote from Turchi:

Writing about oneself under the assumption that others will necessarily be interested or moved, however, will nearly always doom a piece. While it’s perfectly understandable that we find our own lives fascinating, each reader has his or her own life that is, for him or her, much more important than ours.

Or, as I preach in More than a Guilty Pleasure: Mastering the Romance Novel Form to Tell the Perfect Story:

Every reader is a narcissist. Therefore, a good writer cannot be an exhibitionist.

Stress on the “good” in “good writer.” But also, swap writer out for any artist.

Good art is created by the creator for the benefit of the recipient. It’s a gift (but that’s another essay). And it’s not about the creator. It’s about… well, humanity in generally, really, but, for it to be truly effective, it’s about the one human currently reading/viewing/experiencing the art.

This is, by the way, why romance novels, while not considered “art” by anyone—including their creators and consumers—are like crack and outsell literature that critics laud as art. Because every romance writer worth her salt (it’s usually her) knows this:

You’re writing for your reader.

If you’re writing for yourself—if you’re fascinated by your own experience—if your writing (or art) is your therapy, and you are writing only and exclusively for yourself, to tell your story, to understand your story, to experience your story, to heal yourself—don’t stop. Do it.

But maybe… don’t share it. Don’t publish it…

And then be outraged that you are imperfectly understood. Criticized. Rejected.

As soon as you share your art—it’s not about you. It’s about ME. It’s mine, in a way. And if it isn’t about me, if it doesn’t help me understand me, if it doesn’t inform my experience—then you’ve failed.

(Unless, of course, I’m not your target audience. In which case, you really should not give a fuck what I think about it, and why are you shedding tears about it?)

You are your source material. Your pain, your heartbreak, your love, your hate, your trauma—it’s all your most precious source material.

But if you’re writing purely to heal—or worse, to exhibit—your trauma—you will fail as an artist.

It’s not about you. It’s about me.

Let’s end with where we began, okay?

If you learn to organize your desires and demands and shoot them into something that is more than just about being you, you start to communicate. … I will steal directly from life [but] I don’t want to tell you all about me. I want to tell you all about you.

Bruce Springsteen

I want to tell you about you.

 

mjanecolette
TellMe@mjanecolette.com

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About mjanecolette

Writer. Reader. Angster. Reformed Bohemian (not). Author of the erotic romance TELL ME, the erotic tragedy (with a happy ending) CONSEQUENCES (of defensive adultery), the award-winning rom-com (she's versatile) CHERRY PIE CURE, and the just released TEXT ME, CUPID--a (slightly dirty) love story for 21st century adults who don't believe in love... but want it anyway. A sought-after speaker and presenter, Colette is also the author of the non-fiction collection of essays ROUGH DRAFT CONFESSIONS: not a guide to writing and selling erotica and romance but full of inside inside anyway, and the curator of the fab YYC Queer Writers anthologies Queer Christmas in Cowtown and Screw Chocolate. Coming in 2019: Once Upon A Queer Summer Night's in Cowtown.

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