If you’re a member of some of the DearReader.com book clubs, you probably read a guest column I wrote a few weeks ago about the masks people wear, and how many of us forget we’re wearing masks and begin to believe the masks we wear are our true selves. After I wrote it, I kept thinking about masks as they relate to fiction writers. Like everybody else, writers hide behind a lot of masks, and it’s our masks that keep us from writing honestly. For a fiction writer, honest writing doesn’t mean factual writing, but writing that is so free of superficial dross that it zings straight to the heart of a reader.
The paradox of connecting to a lot of readers on a mind-to-mind, heart-to-heart level is that it only happens when the writer is working from the deepest, most personal truth. I don’t mean confessional, autobiographical details, but a presentation of life as we see it from the self we are without one of our masks.
That sounds a lot easier than it is because most of us don’t know any more who that self is. We’re so accustomed to speaking and writing from our masks that we don’t even know we’re wearing them. Writers can begin to recover their non-masked selves in improv groups that write in five-minute bursts from random cues. No thinking, no editing, no trying to plan ahead to the end, just furiously writing. But unless they get feedback, they won’t know whether they’ve taken off their masks or just scribbled fast.
So they read their work aloud, and the group listens. Not to critique or to advise, but to listen. If nothing about the reading grabs them, they move on without comment. But if a phrase or a sentence is so delightful or so unexpected they can quote it verbatim, they say so. When several listeners say, “I love that line…” and quote two or three words or an entire sentence, they’re holding up a mirror and saying, “This is who you are. This is you without a mask.”
If you can find a group or create a group that will do that for one another, hang on to them and value them above gold. They will make it possible to take off your mask and write from your truth.