Putting Passion in the Pages

Last week I started delving into idea and passion and exploring what those things really are and where they come from. I’d like to focus a little more on passion this week. I mentioned how some writers’ passion seeps through into their pages. It seems to be something tangible, electric, contagious. I believe that kind of passion comes through the best when we step aside and get out of our own way as we write.

What do I mean by that? Well, those things I mentioned that can trip us up—the need for success, validation, an audience—create roadblocks to passionate writing. On one shoulder, glaring at us as we write, is that infernal internal critic. And on the other shoulder is the needy, worrying, insecure author thinking she’s just fooling herself and everyone else by assuming she can write well. We need to get out the duct tape and put a strip over each of those two annoying hecklers’ mouths. Really.

All That Tedious Stuff Can Kill Our Passion

Needless to say, a writer needs to hone her craft and become good at writing. That’s an entirely different topic and crucial, of course. But let’s just focus on the passion. I believe many writers drift away from that first love of writing. Maybe you notice how some authors, with a killer first novel, seem to write worse and worse, or you could say less and less passionately, in their subsequent novels (for whatever reasons).

Oftentimes getting swallowed up in the maze and malaise of marketing and promotion takes all the spunk and fire out of an author’s writing. Writing a novel in itself is hard work and often exhausting, so when we add the huge pressure of marketing to the equation, the result can weigh hard on our spirits. And affect our passion.

But I don’t think that’s the main reason writers drift away from their passion. I imagine some highly successful authors are pressured to write more and more novels faster and faster, and few writers can write passionate stories under those constraints. That can be one of the pitfalls to being traditional published and having unreasonable deadlines that make us force our creativity.

But let’s say we either don’t have that problem or, if we do, we can push all that aside and really focus on the story we are going to write. This novel, right now. How can we drum up passion for our words and ideas? How can that show in what we write? Again, as I mentioned last week, just being excited about our plot or concept is not going to translate into passion. You may feel you have an exciting story, but when you give it to test readers, they aren’t impressed. You wonder, why didn’t they get as excited about this as I do?

No Magic Formula

That’s not to say there’s some magic formula that will ensure everyone who reads our novel is going to be wowed. However, great novels attract a lot of praise and readers, and books that ooze passion (and are well written!) will get readers passionate about the story. I like what Donald Maass talks about in his book The Fire in Fiction. He says, “Masterpiece novels look like singular events. . . . We may imagine that this corker was born from a one-time lightning flash of inspiration. I don’t buy that. . . . A masterpiece novel may be singularly inspired . . . but even so, it is not magic.” He goes on to say what’s wrong with looking at inspiration (read: idea) that way is that magic is unpredictable and mysterious and can’t be deliberately repeated. He believes passion “is available to every author, every time she sits down to write.” And I agree.

Return to Your First Love

Instead of worrying over why we write or analyzing to death our writing, goals, story ideas, and market possibilities for our novels (that we may not have even written yet), I suggest we return back to that first love of storytelling. That’s why you started writing anyway, isn’t it? We have to not only shut up the critic and other inner hecklers that get in our way, we also have to journey back to a simpler place, one that rediscovers the joy of creativity every time we sit down to write. Sure, if we have a contractual deadline dangling over our heads like the Sword of Damocles hanging by a single horse’s hair, it can be a bit tricky to stop glancing up. But if we want to get to that place of passion, we have to.

I’ll go into this more in future posts, but share some thoughts you have on how you get to that place where you’re passionate about storytelling. What do you think helps writers bring out the passion in their stories? Let’s kick some thoughts around in the comments.

 

21 Responses to “Putting Passion in the Pages”

  1. Ryan Urie May 13, 2013 at 6:44 am #

    This is something I struggle with a lot in my writing. It’s hard to really dig in and forget about deadlines, finances, what people will think, to just focus on the words and the characters and the stories. Whenever I read an article like this part of me always hopes there will be something like “Five Steps to Put Passion in Your Writing” at the end, but I have to admit that feels like a left-brain approach to a right-brain issue. I like that you’re honest about how slippery a thing passion can be.

    For what it’s worth, I find that the passion in my writing comes through largely from my characters themselves. Sometimes, even when I don’t feel like writing another word,they grab the story from me and take it to great new places. So, if I had one “practical” tip for putting passion into your writing, it would be to fall in love with your characters.

  2. Rachelle DeNecochea May 13, 2013 at 6:47 am #

    I’ve found when I sit down and get lost in my story world, creativity flows unabashed from my fingertips. The first draft is where I find it easiest to let passion flow, but when I start editing, those hecklers come out in full force. Susanne told me once to get rid of the old school marm who sits on my shoulder and nit picks every word. That’s easier in theory. I battle her every time I edit a draft, but when I’m writing a scene for the first time she’s blissfully silent.

  3. Feather Stone May 13, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    My advice is to let go of the expectation the first draft will be golden. While writing the first draft I simply focus on getting the bones of the story down – structure, timing, plot. During the second draft, I focus more on character development. And, like Ryan said above, that’s when I fall in love with my hero and heroine – totally. They become alive and begin to write the story in greater depth. In the third draft (and probably final draft) I give the story its soul. That’s when I allow my passion for writing dominate, run wild. It feels as though when I let go of the need to please others, my talent blossoms. But isn’t that true with life. We are always at our best when we honor the truth of who we are as individuals.

  4. Michael Round May 13, 2013 at 8:32 am #

    Now I have got beyond the password:

    I wrote in a direct email, I think, slightly adjusted here, and added to:

    I read your article but could not get beyond the password. You wrote a lot of lovely words but actually did not tell me what passion was or is. So often I hear the statement: “I am passionate about whatever…” What DO they mean? They are keener than anyone else could possibly be perhaps. They have a monopoly on their subject. You never defined what you meant by passion. One might write rubbish with passion, one might write with apparent passion in the eyes of lesser mortals when you are producing a pot-boiler. My view is that you just damned write – the hell with structure, timing, out with plot – characterisation comes with the character or the writing is false. There is only one way to write and that is to sit at the keyboard, the quill being gone, and let rip. If it is in you it will come out, if it does not come out you will weep ‘writers’ block’ and thus lie to yourself.

    • cslakin May 13, 2013 at 8:41 am #

      I don’t know how else to explain what passion is, if you don’t know, other than give the dictionary definition. “intense, driving, or overmastering feeling or conviction; an outbreak of anger; ardent affection; LOVE: a strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity, object, or concept; an object of desire or deep interest. If a writer does not feel something of this regarding what they are writing, their story may not have any real spark, and may not create a spark of interest in the reader. Some people don’t care about passion in their writing. they may just hammer out books that sell, and that’s fine for them. But some of us writers want to write a story that contains themes or ideas were are passionate about.

      • cslakin May 13, 2013 at 10:55 am #

        You bring up a good point. That’s why I have sometimes written posts about the downfalls of word counting, which always gets someone mad at me. But I really think one great way to destroy passion or push it away is to concern yourself with word quotas. And many people who try to hammer out books worry more about their daily word count than crafting the story they are trying to tell.

  5. Beth Havey May 13, 2013 at 10:21 am #

    I think initially we are often driven to the keyboard because of passion. (We are burning to tell a story, because that’s what writing is TELLING A STORY.) But once there, the complexities of plot development and defining character can slow us down. The passion ebbs. Each writer must discover ways to ignite the passion. Maybe it’s morning pages where you let your fingers fly and don’t worry about what’s going onto the page. When truly into the writing, the muse often takes over and it’s exciting to watch the passion develop. The brain is humming and things are happening. But in order to do that we must put aside worries about deadlines, making money, marketing. I look at Elizabeth Strout, pulitzer winner. Her books come years apart, because she writes and rewrites and tosses things out and starts again. (I heard her talk about her process.) Writing is work–the passion of writing flashes in and out and produces the best stuff.

  6. Deborah Jay May 13, 2013 at 10:44 am #

    I’m just getting out the duct tape…

    • cslakin May 13, 2013 at 10:53 am #

      lol! I buy rolls in cases for that purpose!

  7. Felipe Adan Lerma May 13, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    “On one shoulder, glaring at us as we write, is that infernal internal critic. And on the other shoulder is the needy, worrying, insecure author thinking she’s just fooling herself and everyone else by assuming she can write well. We need to get out the duct tape and put a strip over each of those two annoying hecklers’ mouths. Really.” –

    love those lines 😉 thanks so much! your words are virtual duct tape in themselves, much appreciate it 😉

  8. S. Ann Comte May 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    You nailed this on the head. I’ve been telling my husband I need more passion. I need to get back to the passion. Everything you described here is exactly what I have been feeling. I need to get back to my first love and enjoy the magic of story telling, and I need to knock that nasty critical bird off my shoulder. Thank you!

  9. Rachealgrace Adams May 13, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    Addressing passion; in, of, driving force, etc., I think at times it pleges all of us regardless of what form of writing we are pursing or is pursing us. After years and years of writing one might think like a marriage some of the orignal passion settles or wanes. For some I think that it does; others no. Why is the question? As far as your addressing it here, I personally find nothing missing. Following you as I have for some time now, it is rare if at all you do. Of course for each of us, we view and learn in our own ways. Whenever you send something out, it always enhances whatever ‘fire’ I have going. When my fire does turn to ash; it usually for me means its time to take a break. These breaks used to bother me thinking ‘oh no, writers block!’ What I personally discovered after a time had passed my work always changed; either what I was currently working on, or set me on to what had been waiting patiently to surface; ie., a new passion! There have been times when something comes out and I can’t believe that is was there? Where did this come from? My thinking had not even been in that direction.
    Writing I believe for one who HAS to write simply for the sake of writing cannot live without it. This is the only passion that cannot be fulled by anyone else but ourselves. We can give ourselves to our loved ones and friends by loving them; showing and sharing our loves passion. When we give in to our own passionate need to write or whatever other creative force we have; and do it with passion; well Susanne, I can think of no better reason for being alive. Life has its pitfalls, anything does. We pick ourselve up, dust ourselves off and go on. I don’t have files of dust sitting around (although some may get dusty waiting) I have files of writing to get done. Maybe there are big red letters above my front door “Passion lives here!”

  10. A, G. May 14, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    Passion is the love of writing. Writing is the way your passion is expressed. And if you are truly passionate about writing and what you are writing about you will make it beautiful.

    And another thing when you want to write well take your time.

  11. dorcas May 14, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    I believe passion is innate. We already possess it. It is a matter of writing with abandon. Stephen King writes on advice he was given by an editor: “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”

    In other words the first write should be done as if you are the only audience, the rewrite should be done with them in mind. Doing it this way helps us to write more freely, honestly, deeply.

  12. A, G. May 15, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    Firstly I want to say good job on your post. I liked it, but I don’t see how passion is so complicated that you have to make it a series. Really how I see it as is the driving and the love to write. I’m not saying it’s not important, not at all!! I’m saying we know how passion works. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t struggle much with “passion” in my writing so maybe it just comes naturally for me and it might just be cloudy in my understatement. Again good job. You chose a hard topic to both talk and write about since passion is kind of “emotional”.

    Looking forward to your next posting!!

    P. S. I know my comment is probably grammatically incorrect.

  13. A, G. May 15, 2013 at 6:09 am #

    Firstly I want to say good job on your post. I liked it, but I don’t see how passion is so complicated that you have to make it a series. Really how I see it as is the driving and the love to write. I’m not saying it’s not important, not at all!! I’m saying we know how passion works. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t struggle much with “passion” in my writing so maybe it just comes naturally for me and it might just be cloudy in my understatement. Again good job. You chose a hard topic to both talk and write about since passion is kind of “emotional”.

    Looking forward to your next posting!!

    • cslakin May 15, 2013 at 8:17 am #

      Thanks! It’s not so complicated, but a lot of writers really have a hard time turning passion into great writing. Or they lose sight of it do to the task of writing. So I’m looking to share ways to keep close to passion and tap into it “on demand.”

  14. david werenka May 16, 2013 at 6:56 am #

    wella sometimes the muse gives you a little kiss and sometimes a big kick; but by definition i think passion is hard to sustain. like happiness.
    kahlil gibran said something like you must carve the cup before you drink the wine. yin and yang

  15. Curtis May 19, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    If you’re in doubt as to whether you’ve rendered an emotional scene effectively, check your _own_ feelings. I have a crying towel next to my desk, and sometimes I actually need it.

    If _you_ don’t feel it, the reader won’t either. And, if you don’t make the reader care about your characters, then they might not finish reading about them.

  16. Rinelle Grey June 8, 2013 at 2:51 am #

    I’ve been meaning to post something related to this topic on my blog. I’ve noticed that when writing a first draft, I need to ignore all the stuff I’ve learnt in editing about showing not telling, and passive voice etc, because it bogs me down, and stops the flow of my writing.

    I’m also finding that writing the sequel to my book is not coming as easily as the first one, possibly because I feel the need to hurry more. Finding passion is important I think, I need to work on that.

  17. Morgan Shore June 21, 2013 at 5:44 am #

    Passion is a force within you, both organic and relentless. I find that when I let go of everything that holds the writer in me back (word count, rules, fear…), my passion takes over and the story comes to life. Even if I delete half of what I wrote, what remains is always more true to the story and my characters than I could have ever dreamed.If you want to find your passion, just to stare at that blank page until you stop thinking and start “feeling” your story. Works for me every single time. Happy Writing!

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