Monday, 2 July 2018

Stories

We are story and storied people. From before we are born. Our parents meet, court, make love, conceive; our mothers carry us for nine precarious months; we emerge already told into a family that stretches back through generations. We have a place in the larger story.

We eat; we sleep; we shit; we learn; we love; we stumble; we craft our place in this world with clumsy tools. Stories coalesce. Siblings laugh about our early years. Parents talk fondly of our habits and predilections. Friends add their perspective. We live the raw material and spin versions of our lives in the rush and stickiness of adolescence. And so it continues...

But now, older and wiser, we understand the layers, see into the crevices, know the emotional heft of a tale told carelessly. We refine, adjust, hone, value. We define the parameters of our story and filter input through the carbon of our truth and wisdom. We craft a life aware now of its value. We tell the truth.

Two comedians. Both women. One renounces comedy because a punchline requires that she control the tension in her story and elide her anger.  The other allows discomfort to live alongside the laughs. Both women in service to truth and authenticity. Both women in service to story. 

Sarah Kendall continues on the circuit, but the laughs are not easy: "In this job, you unavoidably mature in a very public space. I now know that talking about a difficult experience isn't necessarily brave. Talking about how you really feel takes a lot more courage."   

Hannah Gatsby may have renounced comedy, but she ended in style: "My story has value," she declares. "I will not allow my story to be destroyed. I want my story heard because I believe we could paint a better world if we learned to see it from all perspectives. There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has re-built herself."

And then she adds the kicker: "Laughter is not our medicine. Stories hold our cure. Laughter is just the honey that sweeties the bitter medicine." 





Monday, 7 May 2018

Revision

Most mornings in this current phase of revision, I climb to the room at the top of the house and write at my portable table. I sit on the floor and face the skylight window. When rain lashes the window pane and the sky is a stubborn grey, I feel a cosy insulation that supports my task. 

Revision. Re-vision. Seeing again. Seeing anew. Making the words sharper, the images more potent, the underlying themes more coherent to the whole. This is what I engage in as I ward off the usual questions: Is it any good? Does it have heft? Will anyone care?

There are no clear answers, but the richness of the process wins out. George Saunders describes it thus: “Revising…is a form of increasing the ambient intelligence of a piece of writing.” 

He is clear about his intention: “As text is revised, it becomes more specific and embodied in the particular. It becomes more sane. It becomes less hyperbolic, sentimental, and misleading. It loses its ability to create a propagandist fog. Falsehoods get squeezed out of it, lazy assertions stand up, naked and blushing, and rush out of the room.”


Thank you, George. You have elevated revision, afforded it dignity, revealed its value for writer and reader alike. 

Now that the sun has come to our small island, the process of revision rubs up against a stifling room, a hard glare, a hammock calling. Different motivations.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Re-visiting Texts

I sat, yesterday afternoon, in a wooden chair on a rectangular patio with the sun blessing my face. Blue tits and sparrows struck glancing blows at the bird feeders; roses stretched overblown petals for one last feed. October already...when summer and autumn exchange notes and tussle for supremacy. Will we stay or will we release?

I have paid sporadic attention to my novel this year. Days of writing forward regardless; weeks of neglect. But yesterday afternoon, with the sun in my face, I read through my notes on the novel. Pages of notes detailing scenes to include; themes to track; images that need consolidation and commitment. I have written questions: Does this character need more complexity on the page? What are the tracks and patterns of desire? Is it enough of a story? What is it to be lost and then found?

We are still here - writer and text - keeping a kind of faith. I cannot abandon you, and you will not let me go until we are both sated. Finish the work; be the last leaf that holds on until the moment is ripe for release.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Writing on the Soul

My physical practice of writing has taken a back seat in the latter part of this year. My mother's death and its aftermath demanded by full attention in ways that were practical, soulful, emotional, and full of gifts. With each act of remembering her love settled more deeply into my bones.

Yet while physical writing took a back seat, I was conscious of the ways in which we are always writing into our souls. This year has enlarged the landscape of my soul and I am grateful. My promise to the year that comes is a deeper listening to the earth - the earth as I see it around me and the earth that exists within.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Getting to Know the Characters

I take pastel index cards and begin to write: the character's name, age, appearance, mannerisms, motivations, secret fears. When did this person's life freeze? What is the underlying tension? What are their recurrent thoughts? What matters to them? What is in the forefront and background of this person's life? Words mount up. I know this character; I can see them. Not just a story then - something that has a life. 




Curiosity...
a good place to start. 
I think of the trees 
I noticed 
on a recent backpacking trip. 

What made you grow there? 
What made you take on that particular shape? 
How did you know the soil 
would be hospitable 
even in seemingly rocky ground?

 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A First Draft (part 2)

It sits at the end of the table. A fat folder filled with another file of papers, jottings, chapter headings as if writing was a tidy business with a beginning, middle and end.

It's all on the computer along with the shadow cast by feedback. The task now to begin again: examine with a fresh perspective; listen with a keener ear; be ruthless.

Is it any good? How can I make it better? Is it a light re-write or a complete overhaul?

The folder sits heavy on the table waiting for me to make the first move. It can't be a false gesture. I can't flirt with this or make a cheap pass.  I have to make good on any promise.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

A First Draft

I have just kept a promise to myself and completed the first draft of a novel by the end of May 2016. It feels good. It feels good to keep faith with myself, and it feels good to give birth to something however imperfect...

Even though this is a work of fiction, some of the storyline has been drawn from my own life with facts altered, names changed, experiences expanded upon so that the novel feels in part like an alternate life, a shadow of me that exists on the page and also in some finer invisible realm occasioned by the threading together of words. What happens with each iteration of self? What is ended and allowed to die? What is written into existence?

As I write this, a grey squirrel darts back and forth across a wooden deck. I am watching through a set of glass doors. He seems to symbolise the entrance and exit of a character...the entrance and exit of a life. I suspect he is a comedian.