"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Writing With Feeling . . . And T.S. Eliot

by Maxine McCoy

When we sit down to write, our fears, our beliefs, our prejudices, our successes, our failures, all that we are, sit down with us. We put a piece of ourselves on the paper. The story is, without question - - us.

Paul Gallico has been quoted as saying:
"It's only when you open your veins and bleed
onto the page a little that you establish
contact with your reader."

Leo Tolstoy said:
"One ought only to write when one leaves a
piece of one's own flesh in the inkpot each
time one dips one's pen."

And to that thought, Charles Peguy added:
"A word is not the same with one writer as
with another. One tears it from his guts.
The other pulls it out of his overcoat."

At this point, I start to wonder. Flesh, blood, guts??? I don't want to die. I just want to write a book. And when I think about a guy in an overcoat I think about that old joke and I really get nervous. I don't want to expose myself either. If I write my book will I be revealing some dark corner of my soul I didn't even know I had? Maybe I'd better rethink this desire of putting words on paper.

But when the morning sun floods the patio and spills over into the room through the French doors, I tell myself grudgingly, "It's time to write." And there I am, "A writer and nothing else: a man (or very unsettled woman) alone in a room with the English language (and all that flesh, blood, and guts), trying to get human feelings right." (John K. Hutchins)

Yes! Writing is all about feelings.

Dwight V. Swain wrote, in Techniques of the Selling Writer, "No writer in his right mind writes by a set of rules... Because rules start from the wrong end: with restriction, with form, with mechanics, with exhortation about things you should and shouldn't do. Where should you start then? With feelings."

The form and mechanics are important and need to be correct in the final manuscript, but in the beginning, in that first and possibly second draft, you must write with feeling. You become your characters and then type out the hopes, fears, and joys of your heart.

There have been times when I've been writing, expressing the emotions of my heroine and suddenly, I recognize myself there on the white of my Microsoft Word. I've had to stop because the words were becoming blurred with tears and then I realize: I've denied myself this cleansing for years. I couldn't cry for myself, but I could cry for my heroine.

Writing with feeling is therapeutic.

T.S. Eliot was born with a physical disability that prevented him from associating with children his age. As a result he became frightened of social situations. Just entering a room full of people caused him dread and seemed so monumental to him that it might "disturb the universe." From these painful feelings, he was able to write The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Here's a few words from that poem:

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, "Do I dare?" and "Do I dare?"
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair -
(They will say: "How his hair is growing thin.")
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin -
(They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

Sometimes I feel so self-conscious about writing deep feelings that I can almost imagine T.S. Eliot sitting on my shoulder, whispering doubts in my ear. "You're setting the drug of dreams against the pain of living. Do you dare? And, do you dare?"

But then I stop and think; Eliot had the courage to continue despite his discomfort. And where did it get him? His words are read to teach personification in English classrooms in every college in America. These are those words they use:

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

He even uses feeling in his description.

And so, this morning when the sun floods the patio and spills over into the room through the French doors, I tell myself with renewed enthusiasm, "It's time to write."


  1. I really enjoyed this post, Maxine. Thanks for putting so much thought into it.

    --Linda S.

  2. Wow, Maxine, your post is wonderful! I have to remind myself to add emotions. Our book are flat without feelings.

  3. Maxine, as always, you've come up with a real gem to help not only our group but anyone sitting down to write. Thanks for the insight. Sue Anne