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  • Writer's pictureElira Barnes

Writing Raw: Digging deep as an Author

Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be an author. Scratch that. Ever since I can remember, I have been an author, a storyteller, a historian. As a baby I would lie in my cot telling gibberish stories to my fingers – an attentive audience that would never leave my side.

Fast forward to my teenage years where I was busily writing short stories and poetry on any topic I could find, searching for the perfect subject matter. And honestly, I struggled. I was drowning in a sea of possibilities for my stories, especially as I opened my mind to different genres.

And then I watched the 1994 version of ‘Little Woman’ in all its Winona Ryder goodness…

And the following scene changed my writing life forever.

Our heroine Meg has just finished her first manuscript (a thriller/horror story) and has asked her love interest Friedrich for feedback.

“It’s really good, Jo. And a first novel, what a great accomplishment,” he grins, congratulating her.

When she senses his hesitation, she prompts him to share his true opinion of her novel.

“You should be writing from life, from the depths of your soul. There is nothing in here of the woman I am privileged to know… There is more to you than this, if you have the courage to write it.”

Understandably, Meg is crushed. She’s laboured over this novel for many years, toiling long into the nights. And to be met with a lacklustre response after all her efforts would have been disheartening to say the least. But out of her devastation (mixed with the loss of her sister), comes a better, more compelling novel – one that sings the song of her heart and that connects with anyone who reads it.

That is, after all, what us authors should be trying to do – connect with our readers.

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What is writing raw?

No matter how harsh they may have sounded at the time, Friedrich Bhaer’s words still ring true. Creativity – in whatever form that may take – should be an expression of who you are, all the way down to your deep dark depths.

Writing raw is the act of stripping yourself of you armour, getting down to the nitty gritty of who you are and injecting that into your story – whatever it may be. It’s the ability to really connect with your readers, and subsequently allowing them to connect with you and your characters.

If you’re pandering to audiences and editors, your readers will know. They’re not stupid.

They can tell (usually within the first couple of chapters) if the author is in it or not.

And if they’re not, then the reader won’t be either.

What I’ve learned from writing raw.

1. It takes a lot of practice.

It took me a long time to figure out how to write raw. It definitely wasn’t an overnight revelation for me, and even now (25+ years later) I’m still working hard at it.

Sometimes I find myself zooming through scenes where I rip character’s hearts out (metaphorically) or kill someone (literally). And I don’t even stop to consider what I’m doing. The characters are in anguish. And I’m sipping on my wine like the evil genius that I am.

But here’s a pro tip: if a scene that is hurting your character isn’t hurting you, you’re not

doing it right.

When you’re re-reading your manuscript, ask yourself how the characters would feel about every scene. Are they happy? Sad? Confused? Is there anything from their backstory that would show itself inexplicably (metaphorically or literally)? Would a reader say that this reaction wasn’t “true to the character”?

2. I’m a complete mess of a human being, and that’s okay.

My characters are messed up. That’s the bottom line.

In every one of my books my main characters experience loss (usually with the death of a family member), displacement, trauma (of both physical and mental health variety), and the feeling that they’re unworthy of love.

And in one way or another, so have I.

I used to be so scared of telling my story and letting people in. What would someone think of me if I admitted that I’d been sexually assaulted? Or had a loss so traumatising that years later would still give me nightmares?

Friedrich Bhaer was right. It takes courage to write who you are. And no matter how much of an emotional mess I am, I certainly have courage.

And because of it, so do my characters.

3. Complacency is a death sentence.

I once wrote a novella where the main character is torn from her one true love (oh, romance). Her world spun into chaos and she had no one to turn to. Sounds horribly

dramatic. While constructing a scene where she suffers a panic attack, I had a yep, that will do moment. I felt almost zero empathy towards my character. Lo and behold, that’s exactly how it was received. With a resounding “meh”.

It was an interesting story and the writing was good, but it wasn’t great. It didn’t have that extra dynamic of real emotion, and there was nothing of myself in it. I was complacent, and I cared more about finishing the novel and sending it out for publication than actually digging deep into character psychology.

I became my own worst enemy.

4. Writer’s block means something completely different.

I once killed my brother in a book. Yes, you read that right. He didn’t even get much of a

showing. By the end of the prologue he was gone in a blaze of glory (car explosion). And I was traumatised. So was my main character who had just lost her brother who died saving her.

I remember writing the scene, my hands shaking, my heart pounding through my chest. As soon as the character was gone, I cried uncontrollably. For days. I had set myself so deeply within my main character’s shoes that we were the same person. I begged myself to get over it. It was just a story, after all. Continue writing, I told myself. It will get better. But every time I tried to write the next chapter, I couldn’t. I was blocked.

Writer’s blocks aren’t the same when you write raw. They are warning bells, deep within the recesses of your mind that tell you there’s something wrong, something you haven’t dealt with. The only way through is to tap into it, figure out the issue and put it to rest.

In this case, I had no clue that I was writing about my own brother. I hadn’t noticed that the character’s physical attributes and personality was the exact embodiment of my own elder sibling. And when I killed him off, I didn’t realise that I was tapping into the deep-seated fear that one day I may lose him.

Heavy stuff, I know! I had to do some damn long soul-searching on that one, I can tell you. But as soon as I figured out what I’d tapped into and dealt with it, I was able to use that emotion and carry on with the story.

Brother, if you’re reading this, rest assured that your doppelgänger died for a good cause.

The silver lining

Here it is, the silver lining of writing raw:

The longer you do it, the more comfortable you become not only with your writing, but with yourself. And as soon as you start connecting with yourself, you will begin building genuine connections with your readers.

So push yourself. Dig deep into the recesses of your soul. Throw off all the armour you’re wearing and strip yourself bare. Scratch past the surface. Connect with yourself. Learn from your mistakes, your wins, your losses. Tap into emotions you never knew you had. Write raw.

I dare you.


L. J. Savage

L.J. Savage is a digital nomad, currently living in Melbourne, Australia. She writes guest blogs for Craft of Writing ( and is a social media and marketing freelancer. L.J. is currently undertaking research for her contemporary fiction novel, Finding Joshua, by throwing herself into the world of online dating. Which, she has discovered, is worthy of an entire novel in itself.

Follow and get in touch with L. J. Savage

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