If you were to meet me in person, you’d find out I’m a little silly. My humor is situational, and a story grows more animated in relation to audience reaction—which I don’t have in real time here on the podcast.
If we were together in person and I saw that you and other listeners were amused by something I said, I’d play around with it and gauge how far I could take it. I’d make goofy faces and do voices if it added punch to the punchline.
This may be hard for you to believe, since you usually hear me on this podcast speaking in a fairly measured, calm tone. But, yeah, if you were to meet me in person I think you’d be surprised. I’ve had more than one client say they did not expect me to be fun or funny.
What Do I Write Next: Exploring Strengths
I’ve often wondered if that represents untapped potential for my writing. In fact, when I’m trying to decide what to write next, I occasionally ponder the possibility of exploring humor. Could I pull it off? Would people laugh?
Then I remember the times I’ve tried to translate my comical side to the page. I’ve not done it often, but when I have…it’s usually fallen flat.
In contrast, I’ve found that the strongest reactions to my writing over the years have come in response to quiet, reflective, somewhat melancholy pieces.
Restrained, vulnerable memoir seems to be my vein of gold.
The Vein of Gold
Back in the late 1990s I discovered Julia Cameron’s book The Vein of Gold on a library bookshelf. She explains where she got the concept and phrase she used in the title. It came from a chat she had with film director Martin Ritt, when he said:
All actors have a certain territory, a certain range, they were born to play. I call that range their ‘vein of gold.’ If you cast an actor within that vein, he will always give you a brilliant performance. Of course, you can always cast an actor outside his vein of gold. If you do, the actor can use craft and technique to give you a very fine, a very creditable performance, but never a performance as brilliant as when he is working in his vein of gold. (Cameron, 99)
To explore this, Cameron considers Robert De Niro’s roles that feature male bonding versus anything focusing on the love of a woman. De Niro’s vein of gold: male bonding roles.
Kevin Kline in comedy versus drama. Kline’s vein of gold: comedy.
Meryl Streep in comedy compared with high drama. Julia Cameron’s book was published in 1996, and I think most of us would agree with Cameron’s conclusion that at that time, Streep’s vein of gold was drama.
Discovering a Writer’s Vein of Gold
I’ve thought about that phrase—that idea—on and off for years. Is Mr. Ritt’s theory correct? Does an actor have a vein of gold? Does a writer?
If so, what’s my vein of gold? Have I stumbled into the kind of writing where I’m regularly giving my finest performance?
The concept is arguable, but let’s say for now he’s correct: that every artist—whether actor, sculptor, singer, or writer—has a vein of gold.
Subject Matter Gold
For writers, maybe it comes out in the topics we write about. Whenever we compose a book review, our critical analysis makes readers consider the title more carefully and we realized this is where we shine.
We write about culture or politics or sports, and our writing exudes energy, spark, or sizzle. When that happens, we may have stumbled into our subject matter vein of gold.
One day we switch things up to experiment: we take a freelance job writing about sports when we’re best at book reviews. After a few weeks we realize we’ve mastered the jargon and learned all the stats—we offer a very fine, a very creditable finished product—but it’s not what anyone would call brilliant.
Alternately, we may discover we’ve found a new area of passion and write even better about sports than anything we’ve tried before. So experimenting can confirm our vein of gold or uncover a new one.
Another possibility is that our vein of gold manifests in a particular genre. We write poetry and win accolades—our vein of gold is in the rhyme and the rhythm and the compression of ideas.
We write a novel that people pass around to their friends and re-read once a year.
When called upon to compose an essay if we’re known best for our poetry, maybe we do fine—we turn in a thoughtful, creditable piece, but not as brilliant as when we’re working in our vein of gold.
Or maybe we’re shocked to realize our poetic skills and experience primed us to pull together ideas and stories into incisive essays. Again, our experimentation may affirm our strengths and send us back to what we know best…or unearth something unexpected.
Our vein of gold might be more in our voice or style. Snarky, intellectual, blunt, crass…these writers are who they are across the board in every project. They create suspense and readers hold their breath. They insert humor and readers guffaw.
Fervent, smooth, or staccato—whatever’s needed—the work flows at the perfect pace in the perfect tone, and that’s how some writers’ vein of gold runs through everything they write, regardless of subject matter or genre.
For writers who know and trust their voice, every project offers a new way to express himself in his inimitable personality, attitude, and outlook on life.
What’s Your Vein of Gold?
Have you found your vein of gold—that kind of writing, that sound of writing, where you consistently deliver a brilliant performance? If so, the next time you’re deciding what to write next, why mess with success? Why risk falling flat?
If it’s where you shine brightest, you’re probably making the greatest impact on your readers. Go ahead and enjoy your vein of gold. Chances are, it’s where you’ll produce your best, most brilliant work.
- Cameron, Julia. The Vein of Gold: A Journey to Your Creative Heart. New York: A Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam Book, 1996. Print. (Affiliate link to a newer paperback version)
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