I simply measure my Kleenex.
Yes, indeed, it’s true. You can learn a lot about yourself by measuring your Kleenex, and I use that quantifiable means to gage the honesty of the emotion in my writing. When I look at my Kleenex pile and see only one or two wadded tissues, I know I have work to do.
Conversely, if my writing room is starting to look like a winter wonderland, covered in a blanket of Kleenex (or Puffs, if you prefer), I know I’m probably being a bit too melodramatic. (Note: A little melodrama is okay. But too much is, well, it’s melo-melodramatic, you know?)
In fact, I’ve come to believe that the world would be a better place if everyone cared about everyone else’s Kleenex. A friend may not want to talk about her bad day, but you can point to their Kleenex as proof that their melancholy requires an outlet. They may try to resist your efforts, but they won’t be able to deny their condemning Kleenex. Instead of the standard, “How are you?” and reply of, “Fine,” we might ask, “How are your Kleenex?” and we might answer, “My Kleenex pile is smaller today, thank you.” Or, “I went from no Kleenex to a Tahoe ski resort in my house overnight.” How lovely. To think of a world where we care about our neighbor’s Kleenex….
But since I doubt the Kleenex greeting will catch on, I’m content to measure my own Kleenex for my own writerly purposes. If you ask me how my Kleenex are, I’ll be happy to tell you, and I’ll be ecstatic to ask the same of you. Other people may stare curiously and back away slowly, but we’ll know what we mean.
Until then, I’ll keep gaging my emotional chapters with my Kleenex. When a character dies, I’ll have a growing pile. When I’m sleep deprived and a character dies, I’ll be able to build a life-sized snowman from the result. And, like Goldilocks and her timeless quest, I’ll know I’ve hit the balance when I can huddle with my computer, sniffle and sob, and finally measure my Kleenex, saying, “Ahhh. Just Right.”