I finally spent some time visiting the staff blog over at TheWriterMag.com. It was overall an enjoyable read, but it isn't very user-friendly. The staff does have some good posts up with interesting topics and discussion, though, and I like that most of the posts get right to the point. I particularly liked the following post by Sara C. Lange about emotional truth in our writing.
Recently I was paging through a favorite writing book of mine, In the Palm of Your Hand: The Poet's Portable Workshop by Steve Kowit. I turned to the chapter on "awful poems" with its examples of what to avoid in composing poetry, and I found this:
"Sometimes poets are seduced by current fashion, conventional expectations, or their own language and inventiveness into asserting things which, although they may sound clever or provocative, they don't really believe. It is a danger to be guarded against."
He goes on to quote poet Robinson Jeffers who "decided … not to feign any emotion that I did not feel; not to pretend to believe in optimism or pessimism, or unreversible progress; not to say anything because it was popular, or generally accepted, or fashionable in intellectual circles, unless I myself believed it; and not to believe easily."
While I see the value in creating an authentic work and in questioning popular beliefs—which can change with the times—I'm not sure why these poets seem to advise against writing in character. After all, the speaker of the poem is not the poet.
But perhaps that is not what they are suggesting. Perhaps they are talking about the emotional truth in a piece of writing. In "Infuse characters with sincere emotion," from the March 2008 issue of The Writer, Faith Baldwin wrote, "Anything that is cooked up, that is phony, revolts me."
What do you think? Can you write something that you don't really believe? Is the challenge of writing with sincere emotion different if you write poetry or fiction?