Monday, April 27, 2015

Maybe Sylvia Plath Was Onto Something....

If I told you that I'm about to write a book about a suicidal girl with writer’s block who obsesses about the execution of strangers, you might decide right away that you aren't going to read that book because it sounds depressing. Well, the fact is that this is already a book,and you are absolutely right. It's one of the most depressing books ever written, and everyone knows it. Sylvia Plath was depressed and suicidal, and she wrote the book about it. 

When it Shouldn't Work

Seriously, "The Bell Jar" is $&@!ing dark. At one point in the story, the main character goes around asking people how they would kill themselves. The book is so linked with depression, "bell jar" has becomes synonym for being depressed. And from a publishing standpoint, that really doesn't sound like a story that should work. But it did. Sylvia Plath's book is a big bestseller that's still read today. I own two copies of the damn thing, in fact. And I know exactly why this totally depressing book worked so well.

Sylvia Plath committed suicide. Shortly after writing her famous book, she stuck her head in the oven. I'm not telling you that to make you feel sad. I'm telling you that to illustrate a point. Depression and suicide were Sylvia's truth. She quite obviously was truly feeling those things, and she wrote them down.

That is why "The Bell Jar" worked: because she wrote her truth. It wasn't pretty. It wasn't nice. And on the surface, it wasn't even a particularly good or even a particularly original story. She graduated from college and found herself at loose ends, questioning her future and her goals. Pretty much everyone has felt something like that.

No, she didn't write about something new. She didn't write about something that no one else knows about. She didn't make up some complicated plot with a ton of twists, like some other writers you may know (hmm...). She just wrote her own truth.  There's a whole section in the book about writer's block, and it's good. There are scenes where she's just sitting and looking out the window and feeling sad. I’ve done that, too. So have you.

It's true. That's why it works. Books don't have to be nice. They don't have to be pretty. They don't babe to be complex and they don't have to be full of dragons. If you write about something that's true, you're going to strike a chord. Put true emotions and thoughts into your book. Draw from your own experiences and your own story, even if it isn't thrilling. Write from a place of truth, even if it isn't pretty, and the world will be much more likely to respond to your words.

Sylvia Plath did not live long enough to see her book become the much-loved classic that it is today. Her words didn't save her, in the end. But she did leave them behind for all the rest of us. Put yourself on that page, warts and all. Put down your truth. Words that come from you should reflect who you are. Do that, and readers will notice. They know when they're reading something that's genuine. So be genuine, even when you're in genuine pain.

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