I love and collect quotes. I came across one a couple days ago that totally speaks to the writer in me:
“In every work of genius, we recognize our own rejected thoughts; they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
I read Mr. Emerson’s words and thought, “Perfect. Exactly the right goal and aspiration and tone for a writer who writes first with purpose.”
And that made me wonder. How many writers actually identify their goal for their writing? Not what or how much or when they write, but what they hope the work will achieve? What message it will convey to readers? How many writers have defined that message? How many have a clear sense of self and the role it plays in their work?
Is this something that most writers think about? Or do they drift story to story, writing the books they choose for a purpose defined only by that work and not by their entire body of work?
I’ve pondered on this quite a bit lately–sitting with one’s eyes closed for prolonged periods of time can assist one in seeing the less-than-obvious quite clearly–and I know writers who do both. Or ones who flip from one position–by the book–to the other–by the body of work. And that got me to thinking about Author Theme.
If we examine an author’s body of work, we do see a recurring theme in all of the books. It doesn’t matter what genre they’re written in, what classification tags have been assigned to them; plot and tone and characters can vary widely, but the underlying author’s theme remains intact.
That theme is the reflection of the author herself. Her perspective, ideas, attitudes and dreams. Readers see and believe and are led to accept what the author wants us to see and believe and accept. We react to the assets the writer employs. That theme might be healing or redemption or cowardice. It might be independence or protection or betrayal. Loyalty, abuse, or dealing with issues such as illness. Regardless, every author has a theme.
Writers often say, I want to make the bestseller list. I want to be published in hard cover. I want to be sent on tour. I want larger print runs, more money, broader audiences. All of that is fine–and business aspects should be addressed by those writers who write to sell. But can writers write-to-sell and have a defined goal for their body of work? Do they? That’s the question of interest to me.
When I first started writing, I set a standard for myself on the books I write. I must love them. That’s shorthand, of course, and I know what it takes for me to love a book enough to be willing to invest a share of my life into writing it. For me, that love includes purpose. Every book I write, every story I plot, has a purpose that resonates with me and that I hope will resonate with readers. So that they will see something just a little differently after reading the book than they did before reading it. Something that turns on a light, broadens a perspective, shows that unknown options exist and anyone can utilize them if they choose to do so and act on the choice.
So writing with purpose isn’t a new concept to me. But those goals have defined the purpose for writing a specific book–each specific book. I’ve never before considered them in relation to the body of work I’m creating.
My body of work has not had a defined purpose. It has not had a single goal that can be attributed to all of the books except in the broadest of terms. I’ve been remiss!!!
So begins my exploration for that specific body-of-work purpose–and Mr. Emerson’s quote, for me, defines it perfectly. I have a starting point,
I am a genius. Not bragging or complaining, just stating a fact with no more or less importance placed on it than on the fact that I am a woman. I had nothing to do with either designation or attribute; the characteristics were divined, like having blonde hair, blue eyes and a crooked nose. But recognition of the human condition? That, I–we all–can choose to do. To notice, acknowledge and either accept or reject. And I can choose the value I place on that recognition. Every human being can. Every writer can.
And that’s now the mission. To clearly define my goal for the body of work I’m creating, recognizing the human condition and the value in it.
Mr. Emerson’s insight humbles me. How brilliant he was to recognize and verbalize the importance of this. At times, our own rejected thoughts do come back to us both alien and majestic.
And at times, from a mere few words strung together with purpose by someone who has pondered life and humanity and the human heart, we glimpse the mysteries and discover that which we had failed to notice or recognize. We become aware of what we had neglected.
That awareness is a valuable gift. In it is an opportunity to change that circumstance. A chance to redefine our purpose, to hone it so that it becomes clearer to us in our vision of what we want to do with our lives.
Writing requires physical work, yes. But it carries equal demands on our emotions–the method through which we connect with readers–and spiritually–our shared perspectives, attitudes, fears and ideas and hopes and dreams. We relay our experiences, define the world and people around us. We attribute qualities that appeal and repulse us. Through our stories and the characters in them, we live.
And life, being precious and elusive and ours for only a short time, should be lived with intention.
The clearer our vision of what we hope to accomplish through our writing, the more successful we are at defining and fulfilling intent.
I’m reminded of something I once heard about the end of life. I can’t quote it directly; it’s been a long time since I heard it. But it was about not reaching the end of life neat and tidy. It was about skidding in sideways, exhausted and used up, thinking, “What a ride!”
Used up, as in replete, content and satisfied that you’d explored all that most mattered to you. Without regret that you’d always played by the rules and always ended up on the short end of the stick without much satisfaction to show for a tremendous amount of effort.
All mortal life ends. It’s how it’s lived that matters. I kind of like that skidding in sideways visual image–so I’m going to keep it, and Mr. Emerson’s insight, in mind and further define my body-of-work goals.
Hmm. Two lines of text and it’s been on my mind for three days. I’ve read hundred thousand word books that didn’t linger three hours. Haven’t you? Imagine… To have that kind of residual effect, to have someone read your book and then ponder on it as it relates to their own life… Now that’s a goal for a body of work, isn’t it?
And that’s what’s on my mind this morning… Well, one of two things. The other is wondering why this emerald ring that popped up unexpectedly in the writing yesterday is so determined to be significant. I have no idea–yet.*❖
An addendum. Yesterday I received a reader note about FORGET ME NOT. She loved the book, and during it read one line on page 102 that was to her “like a neon light flashing.” It had to do with fear being insulting and her personal struggle with fear. The light flashed, she became aware, and she’s addressing the issue.
The writer for purpose in me was deeply moved by this and gratified. I’ve long held the belief (and have experiences to prove the truth in it) that if you infuse a work with purpose, those who need it will find it, and they will recognize it when they do.
Yesterday, with that note, I received an affirmation that writing with purpose is key. I received confirmation that what I believed on faith to be true is true. And that, to me, is inspiring. I hope that it also inspires you.