So, first of all Kurt had the flu. Way to go, Kurt!
Kurt Dinan and I were supposed to have an event together on Saturday, January 20. We were going to have all kinds of fun and ask each other snarky questions and he was going to read from his mind-blowing, brand-new second novel. But at the last minute, he thought he’d weasel out of this by getting the flu. Nice one, Kurt. We see right through you. You really think a 104 degree fever is a reason not to go to our event?
So, we are going to have the event later and I hope you all will come and listen to us fumble around trying to articulate our thoughts. We’re writers, folks, not speakers! We get red in the face and talk into our laps and spill coffee when too many people look at us.
But one thing did happen on Saturday, January 20th, and it did not involve the flu. It involved my first office hours at the Corryville Branch library, and I have to say, it was SO MUCH FUN. Partly because I got to see the incredibly beautiful and special Corryville Branch, where I had never been, and I have to tell you, if you get a chance to go there, then go. It will fulfill all your secret wishes about what a library should look like. Grand, stained-glass rotunda – check. Glassed-in reading room, check. Out of the way nooks where you may or may not find a strange, possibly haunted book, check.
The rest of the fun from the office hours came from you, all the other writers who brought their work. I am so very glad you did! We read pages together, we tossed around ideas for improvement, and I attempted to answer questions. And we had an interesting moment about halfway through. I was reading a writer’s work, which was a really intriguing novel about a woman living in 1930s Cincinnati. And this work—the pages that she brought—were really detailed and well-thought out. But there was this moment about halfway through in which the protagonist is remembering a moment of abuse from her childhood. The writer touched on a gruesome detail—that abusive Uncle Otto had chased the young protagonist with a broken beer bottle. Then, “he caught her,” the writer wrote.
“What happened after he caught her?” I asked.
“Well, I didn’t want to get too gritty,” the writer told me. (Or something like that.) “I felt like it would be too upsetting.”
There was a key moment there. “I didn’t want to get too gritty.” That is exactly when you should keep working. In fact, that moment when you come up to the gritty detail in your writing, or the thing you think you shouldn’t say—that moment when you feel that stoppage—that is the moment when you should put that detail down on paper. Because what you’re feeling, as writer, is power. You know that detail has power and strong emotion—that’s why you’re holding back.
And really, folks, who wants to read milquetoast writing? I don’t. No one does. People want to read powerful words that mean something. Don’t be afraid of the powerful words, or the gritty details, or the upsetting strong emotions. Your reader won’t be afraid of reading them. Just the opposite. They’ll be staring into the page, seeing the story happen, with their heart racing a little, in that way that happens when the best stories overtake us. Don’t deprive your reader of this experience. Write the gritty details.