The Importance of the Writing Heart

Writing HeartThere is this truth around writing that we all can’t put our finger on. It’s enigmatic, elusive. But this “thing” can make a story or destroy it; it can change a letter from something that is thrown away or kept; and it is what makes an e-mail readable or spam.

Let me break this down in a different way.

As a book reviewer, I’ve had the pleasure of reading a lot of contemporary literature. And many times, these works will be by academics with amazing degrees and resumes. No one can deny these books are well-written, with a well-developed vocabulary and well-crafted plots. Yet, as a reader they don’t stick. I have no emotional attachment. It is like finishing a dry work assignment, not a work of art.

Recently, I had the same feeling reading Purity by Jonathan Franzen (you can read and hear my review here). No respectable reviewer will deny that Franzen is a good writer. He is, but his writing always misses something for me. And while I can respect the talent, I rarely remember anything after that last page is turned, almost relieved I got to the end of another gigantic tome.

So what do the academics and authors like Franzen miss?

Technically, they would argue nothing. They checked all the boxes that should make a work successful. Critics and publishers will agree. I might even agree! But it doesn’t change the fact that something was lacking and it is something behind the words.

I’m talking about heart.

Heart is the one thing that truly can’t be taught in an English or writing classroom, but it is also the most important thing a writer will need. And if used right by a writer, it can change opinions, stir a reader to act, and even make people cry or laugh. It is what takes a jumble of words and turns them into a message.

When writing has heart (be it in fiction, nonfiction, or even in marketing or business writing) it can move mountains. It can stir donations, create movements, and make art that truly will live after a writer has shuffled off this mortal coil.

Heart is the one thing all great writing share in all genres and styles. And yet, while we all have emotions, why is it so difficult for so many of us to call upon this organ? Continue reading

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The Mad Man I Stole From (Part 1)

CarI needed money.

I had just moved out to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California. I was going to get my Master’s in writing and I had dreams of screenplays and television pilots, actresses calling me and pleading for a role in my latest projects. I also imagined myself wearing sunglasses a lot. The LA dream!

Now, I did have some savings before making the move. I had even set it up so my student loans would cover my student housing, but as the weeks turned into months I saw that savings stockpile dripping away thanks to food and a car loan, and maybe one too many trips to Disneyland.

My initial hope was to find work at a studio, but anything I would have gotten would have been so entry-level I’d be surprised if they even paid me a dime. I would be working for the experience and the contacts, probably a good decision for my career, just not for my livelihood. Plus, I had no idea how to make coffee. I assumed such a job would involve coffee.

When I first arrived in LA I did my best to get to know each of the professors (thinking that each was a possible contact to someone in the industry who might want a young, ambitious writer like me). One professor was quite fond of me since I recognized her from an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. I even owned a copy of that episode and she was thrilled to see she was listed on the back of it as a guest star. After that she gave me a series of odd little jobs, including once transporting some of her sculptures (she was an artist as well) in the back seat of my car. One of the statues was of an angel fallen to the earth surrounded by little rocks. I still occasionally find some of those little rocks in my car.

After eating dinner at her house with some of my fellow students (she was always having us over), she told me about this man she knew. Eccentric, she called him, a real character (“You would like him.”) and he owned a car company.

“A car company?” That idea floored me. How does someone just own a car company? Was he Henry freaking Ford?

“Well, the brand,” she explained noticing the expression on my face. “He is an entrepreneur and he is trying to start it up. He needs a writer. Are you interested?” Continue reading

Twitter-Free: My 24 Hours Without Twitter

The Fail WhaleI have over 30,000 Twitter followers. When I began this post I had tweeted exactly 10,400 times. No more, no less. Tweet #10,401 will be the first notice that I have written this post.

I am an author on Twitter and, honestly, I don’t think Twitter has led to many book sales really from the traffic. It does generate blog views, but never more than a third of what I get on a daily basis. The rest comes from subscribers and those who just seem to check me out from time to time. So what is this hold Twitter has on me that I keep returning and why do so many follow me?

For me, personally, Twitter is an ego trip. I admit that. Beyond the amount of followers, I get a huge kick out of sharing, retweets, and likes around my articles and books. And I especially love it when someone writes to me about my books usually to say they are reading one of them or enjoy it.

The fact is though I can’t imagine having a real friendship or relationship over Twitter. There almost needs to be a new word for the relationships built on this social network; somewhere below “acquaintance” but above “name recognition.” Yeah, it’s not like Facebook where a majority of my “friends” I have actually spoken to at one point. This is more like epic literary crowdsurfing for a writer. Like I am thrown to the sea of Twitter, riding my book like a boat. And there are thousands and thousands of other writers and readers like me on the rough sea in similar boats… and now and then we will see a Fail Whale. Making us at that moment the internet equivalent of Ahab.

Well, not this day.  For on this day, for the first time in two years, I have decided to take a break and document my withdraw… Continue reading

Working The Audience: A Very Useful Writing Trick

On the StageI am a little bit of a helpless romantic.

For those who read my novel A Jane Austen Daydream that is not at all surprising. And before I met my wife I thought of my writing as a gateway to the heart.

I was one of those fools that bought into the lie of the romantic novels and the romantic comedy films. You see this plot twist all the time! That grand gesture that makes a person reconsider another in a different light. Oh, it is a great idea in a story, but we all know, honestly, it goes against how people are wired in the real world.

Short stories with hidden messages (and not so hidden ones), books, and I still squirm to remember the poetry. I have admitted a lot of embarrassing stuff on this site, but this is one of those few memories I still want to crawl into a cave and live out my remaining days because of. Yup, just the hint of it makes me want to become a hermit.

I, Scott Southard, was the creator of bad love poems. And I have sent them, strategically left them around, and even mailed them once anonymously in the hope that it would make another stop and see me as hotter (as some kind of light rock classic kicks on in the background like in a bad movie). In the end it never worked… and, by the way, the recipient of the anonymous love poems didn’t even figure out they were from me until I said something! Ouch!

All those bad memories aside, there is something to be said for the importance of an audience. I’m not just talking about the readers all writers dream to have, I mean that more enigmatic dream of a reader. The one we hope will find our work, the one in the back of our mind that drives the creation forward. They demand the story. What many don’t realize is that dream reader can be a tool, and can help over many different steps in the creative process if used right. Just be sure to leave the poetry at home… Continue reading

The Empty Theater: Writers on Twitter, Facebook and Good Reads

The Empty TheaterNever again. I promised myself never again.

A few years ago, my novel My Problem With Doors was published by iPublish Press, a publisher out of Canada. Being a new press and from a different country, it was quickly proven difficult to get the book on shelves in bookstores or to get the work any attention on Amazon and elsewhere.

I was (and still am) very proud of the novel, and began to make as many calls as I could to make my book a success, in the very least in the area I live. First, I met with the local arts council and garnered their support. Working with a popular bookstore in the area, a reading and event was planned around the book. The local newspaper reviewed this novel ahead of the event (gave it a great review!) and even my local NPR station promoted the reading as an event coming up.

Yet..

When the event took place only friends, co-workers, and family were there.

Not even members of the local arts council showed up!

While everyone there were very positive, bought all the books available (and I was grateful they showed up), I felt a little ashamed, like somehow I had failed my book and my dreams. I know that sounds a little dramatic, but, hey!, I am a writer and I get dramatic about a lot of things. It’s in my blood.

It was that evening that I promised myself I would never put myself in that position again. The next time I give a reading or an event I would be at a place in my writing career where I wouldn’t feel like I was standing in front of an empty theater.

Never again. Continue reading

Three Blogging No-No’s

SnoopyI love having a blog.

It’s not an ego-tripping thing or anything, yet it is selfish. Oh, so very, very selfish because it is my opinion, my voice out there on display and… okay, maybe it is a little bit an ego-tripping thing.

See, I believe I have something to share, something to say that is unique and having this site gives me that opportunity. We all have dreams of making an impact on the world. For me, it is with my writing, which means my books or my pieces here. If you are starting a blog or have one already, no matter on what topic, you probably feel the same way; you have that itch in the back of your mind, knowing full well that “If I don’t say it, it won’t be said.”

I previously wrote a popular post on this site on the art of blogging and having the courage to have one (you can read it here); and yes, it does take courage to put yourself out there like that. Without realizing it, all that makes you good (and… not so good) will be readable even if it is between the lines. Yet, it is also rewarding.

From time to time, I visit other blogs and writing websites to see what others out there are doing, what is working for them. And, yes, there are things that work and things that don’t generally.  Here are three things that come up for me, including one I struggle with each and every day…. Continue reading

A Bit of Jane

So I am still working to find a traditional publisher for the work. Yes, the grind continues…

I’ve seemed to have hit some roadblocks regarding agents.  While the responses from agents who have read it to be very kind (for example, “well-written” and “captivating”) and all note that they think it will find publication and success, I have yet to get the gold; in other words, one that feels inspired to push it for that “success” and “publication.” There is one agency I still have my fingers very crossed about, but if I hear a negative from them, I plan to try a different route- going right to small publishers and indie presses. (Oh, and if you are an agent or a publisher reading this- I don’t bite, please contact me. Seriously, I’ll send you flowers.)

Anyway, to keep myself inspired for the possible hard work ahead, I thought I would share some of the book here, Chapter 9 from Part II; one of the big turning points in the book. Continue reading