The Courage to be Transparent

Guest Post by Vicki Ward

 

“I believe the most important single thing, beyond discipline and creativity is daring to dare.”— Maya Angelou

 

extreme closeup of asian woman wearing glasses; courage to be transparentNo one knows better than writers, the power of words.

How the right ones at the right time can blanket us with warmth like a good winter quilt.

How they can transform us,  pull at our heartstrings, make us laugh, make us cry.

How a good read enables us to escape to different worlds and broadens our horizons.

How the experience enriches us.

But being a good writer requires more than an extensive vocabulary, a gift to gab, and observance of some grammatical rules. Contrary to the hype, it’s not that simple.

Good writers must possess one other important trait: the courage to be transparent.

Being transparent means “going public” with the warts of our lives.  Like sharing stories of the stupid things we did for the men we loved before they left us, or lessons we learned from being fired, or dealing with demons of insecurity, or even fears of growing old.

Story lines that are written in all of our life’s “script.”

And this takes courage.

Putting our work before hundreds or thousands of readers means we must face the risk of rejection. Over and over again. Whether it’s the rejection of editors for articles we‘ve penned, sending out book proposals to agents to secure a book deal, or a blog post that may potentially bomb like the fireworks on the Fourth of July.

But we do it because our transparency not only allows others to see more of us, but to see more about themselves–and the human potential. It enables them to know that they can overcome some of the same obstacles, doubts, and disappointments we have. That regardless of race, sex, or religion, there is more that unites us than makes us different.

In the spirit of transparency (and celebrating the wisdom of women), my new anthology, More of Life’s Spices: Seasoned sistah’s keeping it real showcases the courage of dozens of women from all walks of life and stages, who reveal their personal journeys and invite you to come along.

Here’s a poem that’s an excerpt from the book:

 

Lo Gig

his game
a lo gig
sleeps with me
behind closed doors

walks
deliberate steps
ahead in public
once a brick house beauty
I suck back tears
remember tender youth
pour my brittle heart
into his arms   frigid   insincere

he
gives me bad sex   quick   painful
cops a crude dime and whine
for rent and cash
dines and wines another

thinks me
dumb and desperate
I  feel
dumb and desperate

bite my tongue as he
bites in his talk
until need rises
then

sweet in his beg
a gigolo
who belittles
and strikes
deathing blows
to my generous
but
closing hand

 


Vicki Ward’s essays and poetry appeared in several anthologies and collections. A former entertainment writer, covering live concerts, and stage plays, her literary focus shifted to writing books about women’s needs and concerns. She edited Life’s Spices from Seasoned Sistahs, an award winning anthology from the voices of mature women of color. She followed that releasing Savvy, Sassy and Bold after 50, a handbook for maturing women packed with financial, health, and retirement strategies for women reaching midlife. Ward has also presented empowerment workshops at women’s conferences and universities. Now retired, she writes full time focused on strategies to empower maturing women to navigate a new phase of their lives.

For more info visit her site at: Nubianimagespublishing.com


Writing Race & Privilege

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What does creative writing have to do with race or privilege?

Many writers are okay with discussing class because many writers feel they are or were working class, middle class, or poor, which renders them underdogs, makes them part of the people so to speak.

However, Addonizio is the first white American writer I’ve encountered who talks about race, class, and privilege so candidly. This doesn’t include non-fiction writers (read journalists) who make it their business to talk about politics, class, race, gender, sexuality, news, etc. I mean all the novelists, fiction writers, and poets who think their creative work is above the influence of a racialized world.

Here’s what Kim Addonizio writes in chapter 20 of her book:

“Because I am Caucasian-American in a culture that is predominantly white, I have blind spots. Sometimes I know what they are, and I can try to see them in a side mirror. But sometimes, I think, I don’t even notice them. I can usually afford not to notice. This is the privilege of my skin color.

What does all this mean for my writing? It means I already have a whole boatload, so to speak, of cultural identities and assumptions. It means that those attitudes might be revealed in my writing, whether or not I’m aware of them.”

She quotes Tony Hoagland in this chapter as saying:

“To speak in a voice equal to reality in this case will mean the loss of observer-immunity-status, will mean admitting that one is not on the sidelines of our racial realities, but actually in the tangled middle of them, in very personal ways.”

And yes, these quotes are taken from a book on writing.

Addonizio gives ten exercises to “help you approach ‘other Americas’ or to consider race and class as they intersect with your own experiences.” I’ll share my favorite one.

Write about the messages you got about “other people” as a child. Did you hear of people being better off or worse off? Were some people lazier, smarter, more deserving? Did you hear about people starving in third-world countries? Try to remember a specific encounter when these ideas were either confirmed or overturned.

This is the final lesson I’m sharing from Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio, so be sure to get your own copy of the book!

Public Speaking for Writers 101

If you ever have the opportunity and the privilege to read your work to a live audience, DO IT.

There’s a transformation that occurs when you read your work out loud. The work takes on new dimensions both for the reader and the writer.

Public readings are a good way to make the writing life less solitary, to connect directly with the audience and actually witness the reactions that you could only imagine while writing the piece.

Now that I’ve persuaded you that live readings are wonderful, here are a few distilled tips from Ordinary Genius by Kim Addonizio to help you prepare.

Think of the reading as a performance. If you’re not engaged by your work and the reading of it, the audience won’t be either.

Time yourself. Less is better than wearing out your welcome.

Practice. Seems obvious, but I mean really practice reading out loud. Don’t just read your poems over and over in your head. Use a mirror, read to some friends or family, or record yourself.

Relax. Most readings or open mics are relatively tame, supportive, and laid back. In these settings, people tend to follow the rule, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” so you probably won’t get booed.

Now take your writing to a new audience and push past your comfort zone.

What other strategies do you have for making the best of public readings? Share your thoughts.

Writing Emotionally Charged Pieces

Readers don’t care about your feelings.

Okay, that’s not exactly true. What I really mean is that they don’t want to read pages and pages of you pouring out your hurt and pain and love and desire.

That’s as unappealing as melodramatic movies.

In a recent interview with Piers Morgan, Robert Blake described acting out a famous scene from the movie In Cold Blood. The director essentially told Blake to tone down his acting, not to cry because the rain was crying for him. He told Blake just to say the lines, not to try and express any emotion. This became one of the most famous scenes from Hollywood.

A lot of emotionally charged writing is overdone and cheesy.

Writers try too hard to make you cry or gasp or whatever.

Consider this:

The poor, abandoned orphan stood alone in the pouring rain, crying and yelling for the only parents she’d ever known. Her heart wrenched, and her pain was so unbearable that she fell to her tiny, innocent knees, splashing into the muddy gutter . . . etc. etc.

That’s an example of trying too hard.

The remedy I’m presenting to you:

Distance.

In Ordinary Genius, Kim Addonizio actually calls it coldness.

Don’t think cold as in cruel, think cold as in distant like an outside observer or reporter or doctor or scientist or comedian.

Here’s a better way to think about it:

“As satisfying as it was to write in my journal, I could see that something besides deep feeling was required. I needed craft.” -Addonizio

That lame example about the orphan is overly concerned about emotion with no regard for craft.

But isn’t writing about emotion?

Of course. Readers want emotion.

But without craft, you can’t effectively deliver emotion.

Here are four ways Addonizio suggests we maintain focus on craft when writing emotionally charged pieces. The explanations are my own.

Imagery

Show, don’t tell. Focus on the tangible details of the moment instead of explaining emotions. Write the entire piece without naming the emotion.

Restraint

Don’t give too many details. Avoid adverbs and adjectives with strong emotional connotations, like desolate or grudgingly.

Hyperbole, Humor, Irony

This is the reason I like the term distance rather than coldness. Because humor and hyperbole can seem quite warm, but they require distance.

If done well, you can ignore the first two suggestions when using hyperbole, humor, or irony. But make sure you exaggerate enough that the exaggeration is obvious. If it’s not blatant to the reader that the speaker is being facetious, the writing will be just another bad piece of writing.

Form

Focusing on form helps you not focus on the emotion. It also requires that you be concise and focus on language. Form is like a leash that keeps you from trampling all over your readers’ emotional flowerbed.

I encourage you to go ahead and write about cancer, war, death, divorce, and abuse. But gain some distance. Focus on the imagery, practice restraint, infuse some humor, or stick to a form.

What do you think? What are the most effective ways to get strong emotion on paper without making your readers roll their eyes?