In anything I read, I’m primarily seeking what I’ve come to refer to as the “heartstring”—a compelling connection, the “why” of a work.
The heartstring urges me to bond with the writing and the writer, and to feel the urgency of the story the writer is eager to tell. It is the impetus for our meeting. It is what the writer hopes to communicate, translate, instill within me. It’s the perennial root of the matter. It is the way in which a subject has spellbound the writer and refused to relent. It is the way in which the subject asserts the necessity of its voice.
Often enough, we hear the advice, “Write what you know.” I tend to agree; our best writing comes when we write from what is authentic to us and not when we eschew our subjects. “Write what you know,” however, cannot be all navel-gazing either, and must seed somewhere in the core of our gray areas.
“Write what you know,” in fact, is less about the concrete subject than it is about the heartstring. It is about what makes you ache to be heard, the stirring within you that deeply wishes to make itself known to others.
There is no particular writing style that evokes the heartstring, but rather there exists a writer who desires genuine connection, one who harnesses their own voice, their own way of seeing the world and wants to show that to me unaffected. There is a writer who wants me to care about what they care about, wants to show me how to care about it.
There is perspective and commitment in the heartstring I’m seeking, a felt tether developing. What is your heart’s song that seeks to seed the same in mine? Write that, spool it out.
—Carey Salerno, executive editor and director, Alice James Books