This is what happens to writers who dabble in acting — they get dabbled in weird make-up. This was my attempt at a Japanese kabuki look back in college. I dunno, I think it sort of fits me.
There was one terrible result of my left turn into acting, though. I got so busy with school and homework and rehearsals and a job and trying to get enough sleep (none), that I had little time for creative writing. After I graduated, I couldn’t write a blasted thing for about 5 years. It was awful. I think I’d used my brain too hard in college and sprained it.
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#3 WHY DO YOU WRITE? Part 1:
Creating an Onpage Persona
Bobbi JG Weiss 1/15/14
Why do you write?
Oh good gawd, must we get into this?
Yup, because this is where it all starts. This is one of those questions that might seem obvious or even downright stupid, but you should answer it, if you haven’t already. Whether you’re a beginning writer or a published veteran, knowing why you write can help your writing more than you realize.
Why you write directly informs what you write and how you write it. Knowing why you write can steer you toward the vocabulary you use best, the most effective ways for you to structure sentences and paragraphs, your natural tone and style and — well, everything.
Knowing why you write will help you develop your Onpage Persona.
I have written so many different things for so many different clients in so many different situations, and for every one of those jobs, I have asked myself the job-oriented version of “Why do I write?” which is “Why will I write this particular thing?” * The answer helps me identify the writing parameters required for that job. It helps me develop a job-appropriate Onpage Persona.
What I call an Onpage Persona is basically your writing voice, the mental projection of YOU that readers sense via your words. I would guess that most of us writers have a natural writing voice, the vocabulary and tone we automatically use because of our personalities. Then we have voices we create for specific writing projects, such as the narrative voice for a magazine article or the narrator’s voice for a novel. As far as I’m concerned, voice is everything. If your Onpage Persona isn’t engaging and strong and consistent, everything else will wobble because everything else — plot, characters, subject, intent, etc. — is built on top of it. Nobody wants to read what you have to say if they don’t like how you’re saying it.
I would love to help you answer the question “Why do you write?” for yourself. Since I can’t, I will explain my own situation to illustrate how the answer can affect your work.
Whenever I ask myself, “Why do you write?” my immediate answer is obvious and, among writers, common: I have to write. If I don’t write, I’m not me.
Okay, that doesn’t help much. I need to delve deeper. Why do I not feel like me if I don’t write?
To answer that, I have to look at my life in general. Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a writer. True, I took a left turn at actor for awhile, did quite a lot of theater and a lot of singing and then got my college degree in Acting and even did some semi-professional stuff. But I was always writing stories or plotting them in my head during that time. I can’t not write.
Paging through my early journals, I came upon a note that sums it up for me. During the late 1980’s there was a TV series called Beauty and the Beast, and although it didn’t tickle everyone’s fancy, it was an extremely well-done show, if you like fantasy and romance. I do. And I loved the show. I wrote the following in my journal after watching the final episode of season one, entitled A Happy Life (an extraordinarily good script from show creator and writer Ron Koslow): “All the pieces fit, everything worked. I cried. I cried because I want to touch people the way Koslow has me. I want to DO it…”
That’s an excerpt from my book Writing Is Acting (ah-ha, that acting degree came in handy after all!). It sums up my desire to write pretty well. I want to move people with my stories as other writers have moved me with theirs. Yet that just leads to another question: why do I want to do that? Because I love to be emotionally moved. Why? Because emotions are fun. Why? Err... because they are. But why? GAH, I DON’T KNOW!
Nope nope, can’t chicken out like that. Have to answer the question. Why are emotions so important, not just to me but to all human beings? Because emotions make us feel, or more accurately, emotions make us feel alive. Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. I write because I want to feel alive. Don’t I feel alive already? Well… yeah. So why write then? Hm… because writing makes me feel alive in ways that I can’t feel in my real life. In other words, I can live vicariously.
Interesting. So by living vicariously, I can live more fully? The answer would seem to be a yes. But isn’t that what reading is all about? Why go to all the trouble and heartache and work of writing a novel if I can just read somebody else’s novel? Again, hm… because I can set up the world and characters and story in which I want to vicariously live. Because writing the experience means I can control the experience.
Ooo! Very interesting. Also very logical. I mean, in the real world I can’t become an armored galactic star goddess with a fire-breathing space weasel sidekick, can I? But I can write a novel in which I can live out that fantasy the way I want to. I can even save the world from space zombies and get a medal while an orchestra plays big impressive music just like in Star Wars!
But simply writing a story for myself isn’t enough, is it? Nope. I want to share it. So the question “Why do I write?” still isn’t fully answered. Why do I want to share my writing? Let me see… because I want approval. That’s understandable. I also want praise. That’s very understandable. I also want other people to see that I’m not just this skin suit I’m wearing with its gimpy knee and crooked nose and spazz hair and funky teeth. I’m so much more!
Yowza. Now that is a heavy statement. It may not be your answer to the question “Why do you write?” but I hope you’re getting an idea where this question can take you. If you keep pursuing it honestly and relentlessly, you will discover aspects of yourself that you may not have known before. And those discoveries will help your writing in ways you can’t foresee.
And that. Is. Kewl.
See that? I used the word kewl. I mean, puh-lease! Who uses that word anymore? And who uses puh-lease anymore, for that matter? Well, I do, at least right now. Because right now I’m writing with the intention of sharing personal insights, which means I’m presenting you with my most natural Onpage Persona. I’m being the real me, Bobbi JG Weiss, the most that I can be through the medium of the written word. And Bobbi JG Weiss, more than anything else, doesn’t want to grow up.
Yikes. It’s kinda embarrassing to admit that, but there you go. By answering the question “Why do you write?” with persistence and honesty, I’ve learned something about myself, and what I’ve learned definitely affects my writing. You see, I often feel like I’m about 17, sometimes only 14. My husband says I’m a perpetual 8. The age I feel in my head makes me use the language that I use at any given time. The adult part of me — yeah, I do have one, it comes in handy for grocery shopping and paying bills — is only about 29. If that. What does this mean for my writing career?
It means that when I work on a children’s Mooshka** ebook, I’m not looking back and trying to channel how the events would feel if I were the characters. My Onpage Persona speaks directly from there. It means that when I work on my original YA series, my Onpage Persona speaks from there, too. I’ve only written one original adult-aged novel so far. It’s called Hooked and will come out self-pubbed in a couple of months. But it’s a dark fantasy, quite a horror tale in places, told through an Onpage Persona that I can only describe as gleefully evil. So there you go — that’s what I think of being an adult. It’s horror!
Okay, not really. Well, yeah, it sort of is. But not really. Okay, this might end up to be another blog topic….
But back to you guys. “Why do you write?” I hope you take the time to answer this question. You can’t do it in one sitting. It’s an ongoing thing. Consider it a tool you can use throughout your life to help develop both your writing and your self. If I may quote my hero Peter Pan, see it as “an awfully big adventure!”
* for the paycheck!
** It’s free at mooshka.com.