Become a Better Writer: RISK

Become a Better Writer

NON-FICTION RISK: SAY IT
Say the things– write the things– that you are afraid to say. I recently shared about my fear of, “Who would ever want to buy my book?” And earlier this week, I confessed not just a past sin that I’ve conquered (which would feel safer) but a current area where God is at work in my heart.

At the root of writing is a willingness to dropkick the fear and decide to SAY THE THING THAT FEELS RISKY.

I don’t mean that you go around, willy-nilly, saying anything and everything that pops into your head. But I mean, there are things that you KNOW are the right thing… that you KNOW you need to say, but fear and self-concern holds you back. In blogging, I’ve noticed that the things that I’m the most cautious about writing, and the things I’m the most passionate about, are the things that get the biggest reactions.

And even more than reactions, my tracking data confirms that they are the things that people still read. They are the articles that people write me about, that keep impacting people’s hearts & lives.

But I can’t accurately predict in advance which things will resonate, and which things won’t. And neither can you. The only way to know, and know for sure, is to RISK. If you want to write great non-fiction, you have to actually say the stuff that feels vulnerable.

FICTION RISK: TORTURE/KILL THE CHARACTER
My favorite thing about reading and watching Elisabeth Gaskell’s works (as opposed to Jane Austen, who I also love but for very different reasons) is the difficult reality of her world. Wonderful characters– characters you love– die. People you care about get injuries that threaten their livelihood and ruin their lives. Everyone suffers real loss, not just the “safe” peripheral characters.

It’s why people are nuts about Downton Abbey. People actually die. Main characters– the ones you love and care about– are jailed, attacked, lied about, jilted at the altar, and killed off. They face extreme tragedy and difficulty. The writers have no problem torturing and killing their characters.

If you want to write good fiction, be fierce. Don’t allow only your secondary or tertiary characters to suffer real loss. Cause your main characters to experience heart-wrenching pain– do it on purpose– and your work will be the better for it. 

BECOME A BETTER WRITER: RISK
Whatever you’re writing, if you don’t risk, you’re withholding the vulnerability and reality that makes your voice different from others’.

Take some calculated risks with your writing. Write the blogpost about the issue you feel strongly about. Kill off the character that would throw the book into a whirlwind. Consider sharing the thing that feels vulnerable. Put your main character through emotional turmoil.

To become a better writer, risk. And I will too.

Jess_Connell

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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8 Responses

  1. Stephanie Brown says:

    I have one particular subject that I am passionate about…domestic violence. One thing you may not know about me is I am a survivor of domestic violence. I finally got the strength that I needed to leave and stay away. Six years later, I find myself married to the best man ever and have completely made a better life for my children and I.

    However, even though six years has passed, I am still finding myself victimized by abuse from the same man. Its no longer physical, but emotional and mental abuse can be just as damaging. I’m a stronger woman now and even though he still causes so much anguish, I will not be defeated by him and I will be the one that comes out on top. He is not breaking me!

    I have tbought of helping other women who either have or are going through the same stuff. I want them to realize sooner than later that they are beautiful and have self worth. I want them to realize that God didn’t create them to be someone’s punching bag. That was an eye opener for me, realizing God doesn’t want this for me. To save someone even an ounce of anguish that I had to experience, would be great!

    But where do I start, how do I go about it? I have many times thought about writing a book or blogging, but I don’t know where to start. I really haven’t done much writing since school other than essay papers for college. Hopefully one day I can figure out how and where to begin.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Wow, I didn’t know that, Stephanie. I’m so glad you got out of that terrible situation.

      Writing to help other women sounds awesome. One thing that was good for me was just to start a blog that I initially told no one about. Eventually, random people on the internet started finding it and then I started sharing it openly with family & friends. But initially, it was just a place for me to work through the issues on my heart and mentally sort out where I was and what I really believed.

      That can be a great way to, basically, journal… and over time, as you sort things out or have things you feel are important and could help others, you could begin sharing your blog, OR submit those as articles to other blogs and online magazines.

    • Ellie says:

      Stephanie, please feel free to come by http://cryingoutforjustice.wordpress.com/ and comment on our posts. Tell your story to other survivors. We want other Christian survivors to find comfort and strength in Christ! Check out our blogroll and see if there’s a niche we’re missing that you can fill.

      I have only been away from my abuser for +/- 2 years. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it took so much more courage than staying. Our stories offer hope and faith to others. Tell yours!

  2. Tracy says:

    Hi Jess,
    I think what you are getting at here is that people connect to real. Real life is hard- and we all experience it and we all know it. When we read “safe” or “glossed over” things we just know it, and while it can be good, it doesn’t impact us as profoundly as honesty. There is a blessing in reading and watching people (or characters) go through real, hard, honest- things. It allows us to connect on a deeper level to the character, and it allows us to watch one possible outcome or reaction to the situation at hand. We might not have “been there” ourselves, but we can imagine how we would react…or maybe we are in the midst of it ourselves, and we can’t see through the forest to the light. Either way, I would agree with you that it definitely draws your reader in and makes for a better blog/book.
    Loving these posts. Someday when I can string more than two sentences together, I would love to start writing again. Thank you for sharing your process with us!

  3. Laura says:

    Thank you, Jess. This was super encouraging. I’ve always wanted to write and I do somewhat on my little blog but I’ve been feeling led to write more and yet feel so fearful at the same time. You’ve given me lots to think about. :)

  4. Amanda says:

    It’s good to hear I’m not the only one who struggles with this – thank you for your honesty! I love writing, and I have always toyed with the idea of doing more. Nothing is as intimidating to me right now as the idea of actually publishing something! What advice would you give a beginner blogger, or even an author who hasn’t been “formally” trained?

  1. February 28, 2014

    […] Become a Better Writer: RISK | Jess Connell […]

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