Discover more from SLANT LETTER
We meet again! Welcome to the second issue of SLANT LETTER. If you missed it, you can catch the first one here as well as my Content-Crafting Kickstart Guide to, well, kick things off.
One of the best things about being an editor is that you get to cut the small talk (which I’m hopeless at, besides. Introverts unite!) and get straight to the deep talk. Forget the pleasantries—tell me your story. What gets you up in the morning. What keeps you up at night. Sit me down opposite an author with a vision and a great cup of coffee, and I’m all in. The deep talk is where the magic happens. Which brings me to this.
In the canon of conventional writing advice, one of the very first questions is always this: Who is your audience? And then, where do you find them? What do they want from you?
These are critical questions. You need to know who your people are so you can meet them where they are. Absolutely! But I don’t think these questions are the right starting point. For that, we have to clear the deck and ask a more personal, more primal question.
The first question is not who is your reader, but who is the writer—in other words, who are you? [tweet this]
Because if you don’t know the sound of your own voice, your reader won’t, either. What’s more, if you identify your audience before you name your own identity, you’ll be far more tempted to play chameleon and compromise your true voice. In the end, that doesn’t serve anybody.
Answering this question, of course, could go off in a thousand directions. But I find succinct is best.
SMITH magazine runs a brilliant project that is exactly what it sounds like: six-word memoirs. Anyone can contribute, and it has generated nearly one million responses and counting. The project is inspired by the story, as legend has it, that Hemingway was once asked to compose a story in just six words. His response: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”
Sometimes it’s the most economic use of words that evoke the most emotion. There is an art to distilling all the excess down to the essence of a thing. That’s when stories are at their most potent: when they skip the pleasantries and get straight to the deep talk. [tweet this]
Here are a few of my favorite “micro” memoirs:
“Asked to quiet down; spoke louder.” -Wendy
“Then again, what was I thinking?” -Theodore
“Threw the towel, picked it up.” -Krys
“Wrote a letter I’ll never send.” -Anonymous
“I just want to feel infinite.” -Phoebe
“Better at calculus than understanding people.” -Anonymous
Thoreau once said we all live “lives of quiet desperation.” That’s what I see here. But even if you’re not writing a memoir or personal narrative, you have a slant and a story that shapes every word. I believe it’s worth taking the time to learn its name. We all carry our passions and suspicions, questions and triggers, epiphanies and failures, into our writing.
We all write out of the unique prism of our life experiences, which color every page. [tweet this]
We become better writers when we are are conscious of what those colors are.
So. Deep talk. What’s your six-word memoir? I suppose I started this thing, so it’s only fair I’ll go first. “Child mystic once, converted workaholic. Until—”
You’ll find out soon enough that I’m crazy about em-dashes. In part because to me it’s a signal that the story is always unfolding, we are endlessly becoming, and there’s hope just yet.
So this is my challenge for you: pursue the profound, and practice it in brevity. Take a Saturday, sit opposite a blank page and a great cup of coffee, and write the story of your life. I guarantee you it will be longer than six words or six sentences or even six pages. That’s allowed—spend and spill it all. And then, after the rough draft, after you have all the raw material out of your system, refine and distill. Sift and settle the essence down to six words. This is the heart and the engine that will drive everything you write. Congratulations! Now you know its name.
I'd love to hear what you come up with! Hit reply to this email and/or tag #SLANTLETTER on Twitter and Instagram, and let me know.
Take heart. Write on. You got this.
P.S. // A Prayer for Writers
SLANT LETTER is for the craft and soul of what you do as a writer. So for each issue, I want to focus on an element of the craft as well as a prayer for all of us anxious, ambitious, internet-exhausted writing folk. I hope this will refresh you as it does for me. Read it, print it, share it, whatever you like.