Opening a vein – Kate Hewitt

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By Kate Hewitt

One of my favourite insights about the writing process is a quotation attributed to newspaper columnist Red Smith: ‘Writing is easy. Just open a vein and bleed.’ Of course, it’s not really easy at all, but it’s important to connect emotionally with readers, and the most powerful way to do that is by being vulnerable yourself, and bringing your authentic emotions to your writing. This can be challenging, frightening, but also liberating. Below I’ve given my five top tips to being vulnerable in your writing and in doing so connecting with your readers in a powerful, authentic way.♥

1.) Accept You Will Be Vulnerable:

Even if authors don’t think they are being vulnerable in their writing, they are. Every single writer brings their beliefs, hopes, and world view to their story — no matter if it’s a galactic space fantasy, a crime procedural, or something else. Your innermost self is in there… whether you realise it or not. And that’s what readers will connect with! That’s what they will remember.

This was brought home to me when, in a former writerly incarnation, I was a playwright. As I sat in the audience on the opening night of my play, I was suddenly hit with the rather horrifying realisation that the main character, someone I thought I’d dreamed up out of my imagination, was actually… me! I sat there and squirmed as my fears, insecurities, and weaknesses were played out on the stage… and people enjoyed the show.

2.) Embrace Your Vulnerability:

Opening a vein is painful. Putting your real emotions right there on the page feels scary. Sometimes we have to dig deep to even figure what emotions we need to bring to the story; sometimes they surprise us as they appear almost out of nowhere!

In my novel A Mother’s Goodbye, I was writing about adoption, something I’ve never experienced myself, and yet one scene in which one of the main characters remembers her father dying, was based on my own father’s death, and definitely had that written-in-blood feel to it, and surprised me because I hadn’t planned to include it. And it paid off; I’ve had many readers connect with me over that scene. It felt real, because it was.

3.) Fiction is not Your Autobiography:

That said, you don’t have to pile autobiographical details onto your story in order to make it emotionally real. You don’t have to only ‘write what you know’. I wrote about a mother giving up her child, something I’ve never experienced, but I explored my own feelings and fears about loss, grief, and motherhood. As writers we can bring our real emotions to a whole range of situations, but we have to dig deep to do it.

4.) Not Everyone Will Connect with You:

Being emotionally vulnerable is hard because we fear rejection — this is true in life, and it’s true in writing. Reviews stating that readers didn’t connect with your characters,  or hated the protagonist, can hurt because it feels so personal. As writers we have to remember that it isn’t.

It’s your book, not your baby, and definitely not your soul… even if it feels like it to you. And just as you won’t relate to everyone in real life, so you won’t in your writing, either. Some people most definitely will not be your fans. That’s okay.

5.) Check Your Baggage:

A writer friend once gave me wise advice in telling me that every reader brings their emotional experience (i.e. baggage) to their reading experience. They react viscerally and sometimes seemingly unreasonably to the characters or plot because they have their own stories, memories, hurts, fears, and scars and they’re reading your story through that blurred lens. You’re writing your story through your own lens as well, but it’s helpful to remember it’s a story, not a therapeutic exercise (although writing can be great therapy!).

The story is the most important thing, not relating your own emotional experience or working through your own traumas. Sometimes plot calls for a characters’ emotional reaction or choice that wouldn’t be yours… and that’s okay. Stick to the story as your strength, and let the emotions give it layers and meaning.

So that’s it from me! I hope this helps you to bring a new depth of emotion to your story.

Kate Hewitt was born in Pennsylvania, went to college in Vermont, and has spent summers in the Canadian wilderness. After several years as a diehard New Yorker, she now lives in a small market town in Wales with her husband, five young children, and an overly affectionate Golden Retriever. Her new novel, The Secrets We Keep, is out now.

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