I read a delightful little quote the other day. A man named Jean Giraudoux is on record as having said, “The secret of success is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve got it made.” Reading it, literally made me laugh out loud.
As cute as the quote is, I think it’s an absurd assertion. Number one, I’m a self-described genuine person and the act of being phony repulses me. I’m one of those “say-what-you-mean-do-what-you-say” kinds of people. Secondly, I believe that people have the ability to see through insincere behavior. If they don’t, it’s because they just don’t want to see it.
For instance, when the most beautiful person you’ve ever seen, takes your business card at a function and says, I’ll give you a call–. Even though, on the scale of 1 to 10, he’s a 10-plus and you’re a barely tolerable 6-minus, you bank on that forthcoming call because you want to believe it will come. After all, didn’t you wow the person with your witty intellect? Oh, and weren’t you wearing your new tailored power suit?
If you paid attention during the verbal exchange, few things might have keyed you in on whether you will or won’t get that call. How was the person’s inflection when he or she made that promise? Was it said with an off-hand kind of airy tone or did this wonderful person sound absolute and grounded? Did you get eye contact? Did you get a warm smile or just a showing of professionally whitened teeth? Did you consider body language? Was this person angled into you or facing askew? Did you get reciprocal action, that is, a business card in return for yours? See? You know sincere if you’re honest with yourself and look for what’s real.
The same goes for writing. You have to pay attention in your day-to-day living. Pay attention and record your feelings when they’re raw. Then, you can recall how you react to situations, how others react to things differently than you, and why you think that is. The bottom line is, you must have experienced the feelings and activity you’re writing about. If not, the reader who has gone through the experience first-hand will know you’re faking it, and you’ll lose writing credibility. A writer’s work is best when he or she writes what he knows.
I’m currently in the midst of re-writing a book I started about 25 years ago. It’s a timeless story so it’s still relevant–. But the themes I was covering back then address rejection, loss, and unfulfilled desire—all of which I had not truly experienced at the tender age of XX [age omitted because of mild vanity and trivial embarrassment]. Now that I’m older and life has tossed me some hardship and opportunities for emotional discovery, I’m way more qualified to write about such heartfelt things.
So, here are some take-away nuggets:
- Create characters that people can relate to. If readers don’t see identifiable traits in themselves from your characters, they won’t be moved to read more of your work. Put real emotion into your writing.
- Write what you understand and what you’ve experienced first-hand. If you do, you’ll reveal multi-dimensional characters that have warmth, depth and sincere (consistent) traits.
- Write, despite the times you’re feeling joyous or melancholy or irritated. If you’re going to be a professional writer, treat the craft like a job and produce the work you have planned to finish for the day.