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Your Blood, Sweat and Tears – Part II

Posted on Tuesday, May 31, 2011 at 9:46 AM

If you wish your reader to remember -- it takes Flesh-Mind-Spirit

By Peter P. Jacobi

We continue the "Flesh-Mind-Spirit" theme that served as subject of a recent writers conference talk and that contains lessons I wanted also to share with you. Last month, "Flesh" was our clothesline word for duties/responsibilities we must reflect in our writing. "Mind" and "Spirit" gain our attention in this column.

Mind's "M" introduces MEANING

What do you want your reader to get out of your story? Is your developing masterpiece purely on a single plane -- a simple narrative, without additional levels of suggestiveness? Or is it multi-layered, a weave of events, characters, and significances to be pondered, even argued about?

Either way, strive for a clarity that befriends the readers, that supplies a reason for the writer/reader bond. There may, of course, be surprises and puzzles galore in the "what" and "who" of your story, but the "why" for it should become swiftly evident: the why you've done it and the why I, your reader, should read it.

E.B. White preached: "Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar ... If you write, you must believe in the truth and worth of the scrawl, in the ability of the reader to receive and decode the message."

Reader commitment must be earned. The reader deserves benefits to compensate for the time and attention he or she gave you.

"I" introduces INTELLIGENCE

I'm talking here about the sort of intelligence that the Central Intelligence Agency might want to keep secret: deep down, significant, no one knows kind of information. Now, I better make clear that I don't really mean this in a CIA/spies and spying manner, in a dark, dangerous, subversive sabotage sort of form.

I just mean you've gathered material that makes me feel as if I've been briefed, as if I'm in on the know. You've given me the sort of stuff that I couldn't have gained from another source because through your research and conceptualization, you've unearthed the "isn't-that-amazing, I-didn't-know-that, I-feel-special-for-now-knowing-it" quantity and quality of substance. As a result, I feel like an insider.

"N" is for NUANCE

It's for refinement, for polish, for finding balances. There are moments when you shout, when you flamboyantly exhibit your verbal skills, when you show off. There need be others in which a quieter atmosphere is generated, in which subtlety takes over, in which the mood turns introspective, atmospheric, delicate, unobtrusive, even elusive.

Nuance refers to limits, recognizing how far to go, where and how to hold back, shifting the noise level in your copy so that gentler essences can be revealed, essences that would be squelched by tumultuous language or circus gimmicks.

Reconsideration promotes nuance. Editing promotes nuance. Anne Lamott reminds us, "Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly. There will be many mistakes, many things to take out and others that need to be added." Nuance may come with afterthought.

"D" is for DIRECTION

Have you exhibited a sense of direction, a clearly followable path for your story? Have you bestowed a design on your piece, a structure upon which to build, an architecture that commands attention? Have you tried to give the reader a perceivable destination and the feel of moving forward?

Direction leads to order and cohesion, to continuity and flow, each critical to the success of your writing.

FLESH and MIND: we're getting there. SPIRIT remains for the completion of our task.

"S" leads off, representing SONG

Eudora Welty recalls, "Ever since I was first read to, then started reading to myself, there has never been a line read that I didn't hear."

You are composers using words as notes. Whether you seek lyricism and harmony or dissonance and discord, you compose melodies of some sort. You use pitch and rhythm and tonal colors. You orchestrate in simple lines or fugal arrangements. You employ varying speeds and accents and pauses. You build toward climaxes and retreat from them and build again. You make music. And because your music comes in words, because there's a message in your music, when you write, you truly are approximating the creation of a song.

Make music, I urge you.

"P" introduces the very important PERSONALITY

Personality of and in your writing, both marking the "you" in your work and the individual personality you're able to give to the characters and settings and situations you're writing about.

Personality. Voice. Raymond Carver says it's "akin to style ... but it isn't style alone. It is the writer's particular and unmistakable signature on everything he writes. It is his world and no other ... a writer who has some special way of looking at things and who gives artistic expression to that way of looking."

I'm talking about a singularity, an individuality, the finding of the "you" in your work and the willingness to freely use the found "you." You are or should be the distinguishing factor that separates your finished product from that of someone else. You are the secret ingredient, the cause for uniqueness in your writing.

The reader looks for distinctiveness in language and originality of thinking. Are you offering these?


That is part of the "you" I've just spoken of. As playwright Christopher Fry put it: "The first of our senses which we should take care never to let rust through disuse is that sixth sense, the imagination….I mean the wide open eye which leads us always to see the truth more vividly, to apprehend more broadly, to concern ourselves more deeply, to be, all our life long, sensitive and awake to the powers and responsibilities given to us as human beings."

Fry reminds us we all have it. It is what makes us human. But you, the creative person, to be fully creative, best use that imagination of yours to the nth degree. Painter Edward Hopper said: "No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of the imagination."


Two different yet, in this instance, tied-together words.

If what and how you write does not resonate with your reader, if it does not reverberate, ring, vibrate, then -- no matter how important to you is your material -- it will fail to be relevant. To be relevant, it must first draw the reader in. For that to happen, what you write has to activate the reader's sensibilities, his or her desire to be touched, to be moved in some way: to laugh, to feel romantic, to weep, to be thrilled, to wonder, to be motivated into action, to believe, to be angry, to be calmed, to be uplifted.

"I" introduces INSPIRATION

A writer who has inspired me, E.B. White, admonished the tribe: "A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world. He must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation... I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me."

Keeping our sense of proportion, humor, and appreciation: that's worth remembering.


If you have contributed all of the above, then what you have shaped so diligently and lovingly will provide transport. It will radiate forth. It will captivate, elevate, provoke, enchant, stir. It will communicate.

So now, are you prepared to sacrifice blood, sweat, and tears morning, noon, and night? Are you prepared to invest your flesh, mind, and spirit?

It is all a matter of focus, language, emphasis, substance, honesty, meaning, intelligence, nuance, direction, song, personality, imagination, resonance and relevance, inspiration, and transport.

These are musts that I do not ask of you. These are musts you take upon yourself if you would write seriously and productively and proficiently, if you would give your reader something to remember.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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