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How to write from the heart

Posted by inkpop on April 10, 2010

inktip #24: The Heart Is Not a Size author Beth Kephart gives advice about writing a heartfelt, meaningful story

It means going for broke, to begin with.”

In a nutshell, that’s how Beth Kephart describes writing from the heart. “It’s about removing all barriers between the mind and the heart and the page,” says the master author of 10 books, including A Slant of Sun and the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden.

Kephart removes these barriers in her latest novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, about a squatters’ village in Juarez, Mexico, and the difference that one girl, Georgia, can make.

Heart began with two photo essays based on the photographs Kephart took while in Juarez in 2005. “I kept returning to the photos of the children I’d met there, kept wanting to do more with their stories,” she says. “I wanted to write a book in which one of the characters was facing something that I have often faced in my own life—panic and its seemingly uncontrollable surges.”

Creating a sense of urgency, Kephart says, is critical to writing books that matter. “We have to write the books that matter to us, because if they don’t, they can’t possibly matter much to others,” she says. “Books take a long time to write—I’ve often written 80 drafts. The only thing that can keep us going is caring, always, about how the story turns out.”

Here, Kephart shares her inktips for writing a story from the heart.


So what’s Kephart’s advice for writing books the matter? In short, ask yourself, “What’s most true?”

Focus on answering these two questions when developing your story:

1. What is most in need of exploration?

2. What keeps coming at you, in the night, even as naysayers arise to say, “Not conventional enough” or “Not thrilling enough,” or “Could you please package that plot another way?”


“Research, research, research—I don’t care if you’re writing fiction,” Kephart says. “There’s always more for us to learn, for us to be shaped by, for us to convey. Yes, a story may begin with us, but it must reach outward and incorporate more of the world. Research keeps our writing selves alive, and invested.” member Carrie McRae (aka McRae by Nature) definitely did her research for her book, Things That Break. “I researched climates, old trades, and weaponry,” she says on her profile.


Once you’ve nailed down the gist of your story, take a breather.

“Give the story time and space—walk away from what you think is a great draft,” Kephart says. “Inevitably it can and will be made much better by the distance you can bring to it.”

Kephart wrote a first draft of The Heart is Not a Size, sold the concept to HarperTeen, then let the book sit and stew while she wrote Nothing But Ghosts. By the time she returned to Heart, she had a clearer understanding of its narrative possibilities.

Keep in mind that sometimes the stewing process doesn’t necessarily lead you to a path of brilliance—and that’s okay. “Let a story or an idea fester until you absolutely have to write some part of it down,” Kephart says. “If the impulse fades, it probably wasn’t big enough to sustain you over the course of a novel’s creation.”


Writing from the heart is not an excuse for self-indulgence, Kephart says. What does she mean by this? Basically, write a story that’s interesting and reader-friendly. The “fake it ‘til you make it” approach doesn’t work with writing a heartfelt story.

“You still must ultimately apply a careful self-editing eye,” she says. “One must also hold to one’s vision without compromising one’s ability to listen well to trusted editors or readers.”  

inkpop Forums Topic: Have you written something that comes from the heart? What’s your story?

This post was written by Amy Schroeder (aka inkpopAmy)

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2 Responses to “How to write from the heart”

  1. Dima said

    Hi all

  2. Melissa said

    I adore Beth Kephart. Here’s to letting the story simmer!

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