Let’s be honest, if you are reading this you are interested in writing. No? Well, congratulations, you have somehow found this on your Facebook feed or even better, on the Phoenix website. Both of these channels assumingly require you to know what the Phoenix is (it is a literary magazine if you didn’t know). However, if you are reading this and didn’t know about the Phoenix, you may find interest – but don’t feel pressured to stay. Reading about writing is not mandatory for you lot, so go celebrate. To the others here however, turn down whatever folk music you are listening to, pull yourself out of whatever semi-depressed state you are in, and prepare yourselves for some truths surrounding your life and writing.
We are writers. (We: meaning those of you who feel tied to both the art and pain of script.) We read and write not because we want to, but rather because we have to. At no point thus far has anybody or anything held a gun to your head and prompted you to keep reading. On the slight chance that they have, I suggest you keep reading. Anyway, writers do not always write about the joyful times in our lives. To be honest, our writing tends to be the exact opposite of delighted. When is the last time you have written or heard a poem about how extremely happy the protagonist is? Never. The fact is, there has to be something unhappy happening to propel the story forward, some strong emotional tie or breakdown. Most literary aficionados would refer to this as a “conflict.” So, why not make up a character who has a fairly average life now and find a way to screw it all up? Here is how it works…
A person. A person with a job. A person with a job and a spouse. Here comes the screwing up part. A person with a job they hate, and a spouse that cheats on them, but only some of the time. So here we start to find a conflict. Now we can pepper in different elements to build the character of the protagonist. A person with a job they hate, receding hairline, and spouse that cheats on them some of the time. This can advance on and on just like this. Of course, an average writer has to come up with the story’s key element: a conflict for their protagonist. Usually, these conflicts come from within the writers themselves.
You, yes you, have to reach deep into yourself to pull out the things you did not even realize you had tucked away. Don’t be one of those people that says, “I don’t have anything to write about.” You could be the character that wants to laugh at funerals. We all have things to write about. That is what makes us writers. It is whether you want to write about them or not that is a totally different story.
As I previously mentioned, a protagonist’s conflict involves taking their life then screwing it up; and, this conflict comes from a deep personal experience that is within the writer. Some of you may have made the connection by now; you are the ones writing about your conflicts. Sure, they may be manipulated and adjusted here or there, but they are still your conflicts. Through your works, you will be taken to places that are uncomfortable, but to really capture the reader, you must be raw. You must let the reader in. The reader could be, of course, your mother and the piece about your step-father. It probably would not be the best idea to let them read this piece… Probably. However, each writer should be writing to the audience. If you are concerned about what your friends or family think, there will be a wall between you and the audiences you are so desperately trying to reach. You can show your mother your writing, someone who is so interested in your work, and your step-father, who pretends to be. Yet, be selective of what you show them, but not what you show the audience. - Z