Discover more from Table of Contents: 1. Writing 2. Publishing 3. Notes
The Perfectionist Coward
How I let my characters speak for me...
I’m a perfectionist. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but when you’re a creator, it can stop you in your tracks. You develop the false belief that there is some perfect way to write a book, tell a story, create your latest Substack post. My particular brand of perfectionism is compounded by the fact that I am the daughter of a writer. My father wrote a column for the Herald Tribune syndicate 2 to 3 times a week. I never wanted to compete with him so for the first 30 years of my writing career, I stuck to fiction. But with the publication of a memoir, (he also wrote one of those), I followed the advice of friends and fellow authors, and my publicist, and started to write an email newsletter. I learned that it wasn’t as hard as I thought, because even more than a writer, I am a storyteller. So as long as I have a story to tell, the words flow. It’s when I am trying to state an opinion that I get into trouble probably because that’s what my father did. His column called MATTER OF FACT written with his older brother, Joseph Alsop covered international politics and political.
They did their research, they interviewed people throughout Washington, both in the government and out, and when they felt they had absorbed the facts, they put their opinion in the newspaper for the world to read. They were both praised and pilloried at the time, but it didn’t stop them.
As I discussed in my TEDx talk, I’m also a coward. I use my characters to voice opinions which reminds me of the disclaimer news media outlets publish: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the view of FILL IN THE BLANKS. Perhaps because I’m a novelist who tries always to see both sides of a situation or a character, I find it difficult to plant my flag definitively on one side of a question or the other.
When I teach writing, I tell students that in every hero, there is a villain and, in every villain, a bit of a hero. That’s what makes a character interesting. And a novelist as well. Alastor, my wizard in The Castle in the Attic, uses a magic token to turn his enemies to lead. To be honest, I can count quite a few characters in the world and even in my acquaintance, that I’d like to turn into lead if not forever, then at least for a week or two.
So I’ll continue to tell stories here in my newsletter and get to the truth of my characters in my fiction. As for voicing my opinions on the matters of the world the way my father did, I’ve decided that taking action to change what I find unjust is more effective than all the words I might be able to write.