To Thine Own Self Be True

Over the last few days I’ve had an exciting epiphany of sorts. Everything you read about writing lifestories and memoirs encourages you to express lots of emotion to add color, life and credibility to your accounts. This is good advice. Expressing emotion does that — if you can do so authentically.

Many people are able to use visualization or a similar technique to recreate past scenes vividly enough to experience the emotions anew. Others are able to imagine what they must have been feeling and express it in a credible way.

Another group of people have never been more than vaguely aware of any but the strongest emotions. To a significant degree, the way we experience emotions is hard-wired at birth. It relates to how our brains work, and no two brains work the same way. To put it in simplistic terms, emotions are generally thought of as a right-brain function, and many people are primarily left-brain dominant, favoring thought over feeling. It’s similar to being right-handed or left-handed.

If you happen to be a thinking person more than a feeling one, and you strain to stick in some feeling words to make your stories measure up, you run the risk of sounding contrived or insincere.

If you do remember how you felt in a specific situation, and if you can use the information in a natural way within your story, go for it. But don’t agonize over it. Write your stories, in your own natural style, and be content that they will reflect you as you really are/were, not as the Writing Correctness Posse tells you that you “should” express things. I feel angry when I think people are being bullied into writing something other than their own unique style!

That being said, please excuse my absence from the blog for the past week. I brought home a cold from a quick visit to our fourteen- month-old granddaughter and her parents. I’m happy to report that I’m feeling fine again now. And I’m delighted to report that the little one has two astonishing first “thing” words: Book and A-B. That’s A-B as in the alphabet song played many times a day on the Playschool thingy magnetically adhered low on the fridge door. Her favorite thing to do when she isn’t exploring her world at full throttle is to sit on the floor with her huge collection of books, flipping through the pages and “reading” them in her own unique language.

What a thrill to watch her. Do you suppose we have a budding writer there? What a delightful prospect.

Including emotion words comes easily to me, but if it doesn’t come easily to you, if you find yourself adding feeling words the same way you work on punctuation, to thine own self be true.

Write on,

Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal



3 comments :

Stephanie West Allen said...

I am wondering why you say "hard-wired," Sharon? I think what we are discovering in neuroscience is how plastic our brains are. Would love to hear more from you on this topic.

I think you may like this post:

http://www.brainboomer.com/2006/10/11/think-of-your-brain-as-a-storytelling-primate-and-write-a-zinger

Ritergal said...

What a great question. I use hard-wired to indicate the "nature" part of the nature/nurture equation. Like you, I am delighted to read the growing evidence of how late into life our brains remain pliable and continue to grow -- if we stimulate them.

Equally convincing evidence is mounting that each of us is born with certain innate preferences and abilities and that we'll most likely excel in those areas when we pursue them. We can certainly learn to do well enough in other areas, but those areas will never feel as natural and easy. The innate preferences are "hard-wired" rather than acquired.

Thanks for the link to brainboomer. More great evidence that writing lifestories keeps our brains healthy and growing! :-)

Sephanie West Allen said...

I certainly agree with you that our aptitudes are hard-wired, usually by the age of 15. That's the topic to which this blog is devoted:

http://www.westallen.typepad.com/trackknacks

In addition to the hard-wired aptitudes are many other factors such as skills, values, interests, and style; these do change over a person's life.