megwrites: Shakespeared! Don't be afraid to talk Elizabethan, or Kimberlian, or Meredithian! (shakespeared!)
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[livejournal.com profile] fashionista_35 has some very interesting things to say about writing "the book of your heart" as opposed to just writing "what sells" and self-censorship.

I have to confess that I agree with the principle, but I sort of hate the phrase. I agree that you can't just write something on the sole basis that it'll sell.



Writing something just for commercial purposes and writing it because it's "the book of your heart" is like the difference between having a one-off with a cheap hooker in your car and making passionate love to the partner of your dreams. Or, if you're not into the sexual metaphors, microwaving a TV dinner and taking the time to cook a gourmet meal.

In either case, the latter is infinitely more satisfying and meaningful than the former.

But I don't like the idea of the phrase "the book of your heart" for two reasons.

1. The word "heart" is completely deceptive and oversimplifying the issue. When we say "heart", people think of raw feelings and emotions. I think that may be what some people are reacting to when they oppose the phrase.

But it's not just about writing your feelings, but a level of authorial honesty. It's about coming to the table because you actually give a crap about what's being served for dinner. About having a justification for asking for someone's time and attention that you can give with a straight face.

It's about not writing write what's easy, what's throw away, what's just a cheap. Writing the "book of your heart" is actually about being brave and dedicated enough to put in the mental, emotional effort. Writing for sheer commercial purposes is like serving someone reheated leftovers when they came to a five star restaurant and then expecting them to pay top dollar for it. It's insulting and a waste of everyone's time, especially yours.


2. My spider sense tingles red flags go up, because some writers will take the phrase to mean they never need to edit or check themselves, that so long as it feels good to them, it's enough.

The human heart, both literally and metaphorically, can be ugly. We don't just keep the warm fuzzy feelings in there. We also (metaphorically) we keep our -isms there, our racism, sexism, ablism, and all the others. Our heart is the home of our hatred, our pettiness, our prejudices. I think it behooves any writer to be acutely aware of this.

[livejournal.com profile] fashionista_35 cited the example of a friend, Alyssa Day, who was told that she used too many prime numbers in her books. And yes, I think that is beyond the pale. There's nothing a writer can do about that. It's part of the inherent risk that both reader and writer take when they pick up books.

But - again, I have 'but' face! - there's also a point where criticisms become valid. When a reader says, "this thing you wrote hurt me, treated me less human, disrespected me, added to my pain and lack", I think the author has some obligation to really consider it. Maybe not to accept it, but to put down the defenses and consider it.

I see authors who respond to those kinds of criticisms with, "Well, I'm the author, I can do what I want!" or a whole mess of irrelevant, point-missing TL;DR. I don't believe that kind of response is appropriate in the face of someone telling you your book - yes, the book of your heart - did something hurtful.

If I ever get published, I hope that someone will let me know if I do something hurtful like that, if I've been racist or sexist or homophobic or (insert prejudice that I inevitably do have). More than that, I hope I will have the good sense, decency, and grace to accept that criticism, to take it to heart and let it impact the books that follow.

In the end, I think it comes down to this. Writing, like life, is complicated. No phrase, or witticism, or piece of advice is one size fits all - but I do think that in writing, it's important that whatever you're doing, you care deeply about it. As deeply as you want your readers to care.

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