Writing True to Your Heart

Are there times when you hear so much writing advice that it overloads you and leads you down the wrong path?  Or maybe the well-intended advice loses all meaning and mires into one gigantic mess?  It’s happened to me, being a workshop junkie, and here’s how “heart” pulled me through:

“Write what you like to read.”  You’ve heard this classic piece of advice, right?

I liked mysteries.  I had cut my teeth on Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, like everyone else.  I thought I, too, could write a mystery.  Why not?

“Write what you know.”  

Okay, so I was a Spanish teacher, and maybe conjugating verbs wasn’t all that thrilling for most people.  How about martial arts, instead?  That’s exciting!  I was training in the martial arts with my daughters and teaching the Little Dragons.  So I decided I would write about an amateur sleuth who was also a karate instructor.

“Start with action.”  

No problem.  My character would have plenty of action to dish out.  She was twenty-something, lean and mean, confident and super talented.  The star of her dojo, she could take on 2 or 3 opponents, and still go out dancing the rest of the night.  She was nothing like me, but so what?  It was exciting action.

That first draft only went a couple of chapters before fizzling out.  It had no heart.

“Write the story that only you can write.”  

Excellent advice, but I didn’t know what it meant at first.  If I write the story, I’m the only who wrote it, right?  I input my word choices, and I choose the story elements, the various characters, the setting and so forth.  How could anyone else write it?

It’s more than that.

It means that writing takes a piece of your heart.

When I finally realized that my story needed a piece of my heart to become the story that only I could write, my character jumped off the page.  She is a middle-aged mom who draws strength from the martial arts to face her mistakes and fears.  She is determined to do her best.  She is part of me.  She has my heart.

If all other writing advice fails, at least listen to your heart.  A little heart will get you out of any pickle!

8 thoughts on “Writing True to Your Heart”

  1. So true, Sue. I was talking about this last night. I got a ton of feedback on my novel and it just felt “wrong” – but hey, more than two people were saying the same thing, so they must be right, right? So I changed it and when I had it edited, well, it wasn’t pretty. I wound up going back, putting all the original stuff back, and revising from there. So yes, absolutely – when the heart starts talking, you’d better listen!


  2. Great advice, Sue. It’s is even more true when you write a series. This is a character, and generally a setting, that you are going to live with for a while. If it doesn’t call to you, that will show on the page. Maybe it would be better if the write what you know maxim was changed to write what you care about.


  3. What an awesome post. It is so frustrating to me when people give you writing advice that interferes with your vision of your story. For those of us who started writing without the benefits of a writing group, imagine the excitement we had in penning words to a page. I wrote my first book in three months. It had problems. I used adverbs so often when I go back now and read it I either laugh or wince. I had every characters POV in the book, but, darn, that book had heart and it moved me.

    Darynda Jones author of the Charley Davidson reaper series talks about how she changed her process based on the advice of another author. She said she wrote nothing but crap until she went back to her process.

    In a business/art as subjective as writing rules should be nothing more than suggestions. If you don’t have feelings in your story, you can have all the action in the world and you won’t move your reader. Thanks for pointing this out, Sue.


  4. Thanks, All, for your comments!

    Mary, I’ve done that enough times–going back to my original version–that it’s easier now to resist what just doesn’t feel right.

    Kait, write what you care about, absolutely! As I write my series, I am creating a series Bible to keep me on track.

    Donnell, I’ve got one of those books, too, very well hidden! I should destroy it, but it’s got too much of my heart in it, and maybe someday I’ll start over on that story. You’re so right about those illuminating moments and how subjective this business is!


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