I had the great fortune of attending a talk on authenticity and creativity in Apalachicola, FL last week. The talk was given by Joe Paquet, a wonderfully gifted painter and a really inspiring theorist on the arts.
At one point, Joe recounted a visit to Florence. Lots of his friends were excited to hear about his reaction, as an artist, to Michelangelo’s statue of David, which of course we all must see when we visit Florence (I did as well, many years ago now).
But as he was on his way to see the statue, Joe passed some later works by Michelangelo, the four “Unfinished Slaves.” These works made the hairs on the back of his neck bristle, he said.
On he continued, though, to David, who, if you haven’t seen him, is perfection itself. As Joe noted, “There are even cuticles on his fingernails!”
David was incredible. Perfect.
Still, though, Joe kept returning to those slaves. These were the works he wanted to stare at, to connect with, these statues that weren’t even finished. Prisoners in stone.
In Joe’s own words:
“The statue of David is the work of a young man trying to prove he was the best. The Unfinished Slaves are the work of an older man just trying to show the world what he loved.” – Joe Paquet, Apalachicola, FL (May 2016)
I’m not the first writer to talk about writing what you love (or as Chuck Wendig refers to it, WWYL).
And yet. I think maybe I have a few points of my own.
Chuck is right. The old adage in writing is “Write What You Know.” I’ve never really been a subscriber to this. My earlier work involved quite a bit of research into cultures and events and laws that I didn’t know a ton about. If I was fascinated enough by a subject to research it and write about it, the theory went, that same fascination and wonder would be transferred on to the reader.
Sure, maybe. That can probably happen. Just as writing what you know can deliver a work full of authenticity to the reader.
And, listen. Fascination is great. Authenticity is wonderful.
Love is better. Love is always better.
Here’s the other thing. Love leads to fascination, to authenticity.
The most recent manuscript I’ve written is me writing what I love. Comic books. Baseball. A period of my youth I remember well, a time I really connect with still. I don’t know if it cracked any codes – I hope it did – but man did I enjoy the process.
Scratch that. I loved it.
Cracking the code is something we writers sometimes talk about. What’s the magic elixir that creates those mega hits, those books or movies – the stories – that great swaths of people enjoy, that, gosh, it seems like everyone connects with on some level?
I could list them out, but you already know what they are. Because you’re one of the somebodys who connected with them.
They’re the works that make the hairs on the back of your neck bristle, the ones you couldn’t look away from.
A lot of times, they come from a writer showing the world what he / she loves, is passionate about, can’t stop thinking about. They allow that writer to, in some way large or small, convey those feelings along to the reader. To create that connection. To bristle those hairs.
Does this mean writing what you know isn’t also writing what you love? Of course not. But it doesn’t guarantee it, either. You may know a great deal about some subject you don’t love. Or maybe…you did love it at one time, but no longer. You may even feel compelled to write about this subject, simply because you know so much about it.
I encourage you to consider first, though, whether you love it.
Because if you care about cracking the code, I believe you’ll only do it through WWYL.
There’s more to say about writing what you love, and authenticity, and where the magic happens, but I’ll save all that for another post.
Meanwhile, go forth and WWYL, people.
I promise magic will happen.
Possibly only in your own head, but hey, still magic, right?
Maybe even the best kind.