January 8, 2012 § 1 Comment
I realize this is a bit of an abstract question, but I can be a bit of an abstract person. So, why do we write? What draws us to the page? What do we get out of writing that we don’t get somewhere else?
There are, obviously, a lot of different answers. I personally find “to express myself” a bit simplistic. What does that even mean? What exactly are we expressing? Is Stephen King “expressing himself” in Carrie? Maybe, maybe not.
Writers do, in my opinion, feel the intense need to say something. We feel it important to get our message out there. We both write for ourselves and for others. Whenever I sit down to write, I want to explore something-maybe how lonely the human experience can be, how we connect to others, how people come to know themselves in relation to the world around them, how we make sense of our life situations, what we fear, what we cherish, and why. I always have so many questions, questions I discuss with people close to me who are also prone to wondering. While I have a deep appreciation for these conversations, there is something about actually connecting pen to paper that I value even more. I feel as if I’ve done something with all that thought instead of just getting lost in it. I’ve created something, made the confusion in my head into something with substance.
Often what I ponder I have difficulty articulating, but when I write, when I get into that oh-so-highly-prized “zone”, suddenly the words are flowing better than I could have imagined. Right before my eyes ideas are manifesting themselves, ideas I am sometimes startled to see because I wasn’t consciously putting them there. I don’t know if this is something other writers experience, but I often start writing about one thing, and then, very subtlety, the control shifts. The piece begins to hold the authority, and I choose to follow where it leads. It is possible to redirect the way, but every time I have done this, the results are messy and unappealing. Stephen King wrote something similar regarding this phenomenon in On Writing, arguing that writers set the stage and then essentially sit back and watch what happens. You start out with a general sketch and then once you start writing, things inevitably change. Why? You could say your ideas have changed, but I find it is more likely that you are realizing what exactly your original idea was. I start writing and suddenly I realize what it is I’m saying. It’s sort of magical. I read over what I’ve written, what’s come from my own mind and heart, and it’s like I’m learning something I never knew…but part of me most certainly did.
But that’s not good writing! That’s rambling! That’s a lack of focus, that’s riding on a train to nowhere! Your inner trained writer panics. I used to have these same concerns, and often still do. Each time I started a new piece, I fought to know exactly what I was saying. If my story started to lead somewhere else, I pushed it back on the first path. The more I continued down that first line of thought while my story tugged in the other direction, the more confused I became about what I was saying and the harder I tried to make it look nice. I’d lose my reader, lose my characters, and lose my confidence. Don’t be intimidated. Liberate yourself. Go where your story leads. Believe in yourself enough as a writer to let go. Wonderful things can happen! When you’re revising, look for crucial moments where you may have hesitated about where to go next. Did you go by instinct, or by Plan A? Write two drafts (or multiple) and compare. What works?
So maybe what we get out of writing, when you boil it down, is understanding. Deeper and more complete understanding of what we wish to communicate to others. Deeper understanding not even of the answers, but of the questions. Maybe “expressing yourself” really means watching that secret part of you, secret even to yourself, unfold so easily on the page. We are drawn to the magic of writing, of not knowing what will happen when we sit down at the desk today, of what will be discovered. There is thrill, there is excitement, and there is undeniable wonder.
January 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
Here’s another original, written in the middle of the night. Nobody ever said inspiration was convenient. In these short pieces I usually explore a feeling, a thought, a question, a memory. They are far from perfect-just little pieces, scribblings almost. Every time while I am writing these, or shortly afterwards, I come to realize something I was blind to at the onset. It’s very fulfilling and exciting to start with a vague set of ideas and end with a clearer understanding of myself, someone else, or this life. I am really deep in a process of discovery as I write, moving right along with my reader.
My style has become very flowy of late-long sentences, some fragments and repeats. I don’t really question it. My style has always been subject to change. It is what it needs to be to communicate the particular story. Hope you enjoy, and feel free to leave any feedback, questions or comments.
When I was a little girl, I used to like to disappear.
There was something exhilarating about getting lost. Comforting, even. I would sneak upstairs to my parents’ room, creak open the closet door and steal away inside, pushing through my father’s suit jackets and my mother’s neatly ironed sweaters. I breathed in that smell of quiet places, untouched places, where the air is so still it rings in your ears and all that exists is weighty silence. Dust glittered in the dim glow from the naked bulb above me, particles of nothingness reverberating with that hollow sound of undisturbed quiet. Everything from old drawings for Mother’s Day, an abandoned earring, a yellowing report card, all existed in a separate reality, a reality far from all the pain and confusion of a little girl’s life. As I sat underneath that dim glow, arms wrapped around my knobby little knees, that silence ringing in my ears, I tried to melt away. I wanted to be like these insignificant things, tossed away to the remote corners of the world where there is nothing. Nothing. Silence.
But I couldn’t.
Because downstairs I could still hear my mother and father yelling, and everybody crying, and doors slamming and I could smell bacon burning and there was the dump truck slushing by in the snow. Because it might have been muffled but life was outside the closet door. And as much as I wanted to disappear into the still air, I couldn’t fit into the Nothing. My heart was beating far too loudly and even my small frame was far too bulky and my soul was far too alive.
So I would slip out and reenter my world and work hard to stop my thoughts, to not feel, to be nothing at all. I moved and smiled and laughed and spoke while the rest of me drifted somewhere far away. I stopped hearing my mother crying and my father yelling and my older sister screaming and my little sister asking why. I stopped seeing the way the morning sun sparkled night rain puddles or the way worry had tired my mother’s pretty face. I tried with all my might to make nothing real, and when I could I would sneak away to the quiet and close my eyes and stop my heart and hold my breath and wait. And wait. To disappear. But each time my body fought me, my lungs would scream and my heart resisted and I’d exhale, watching my breath, that signifier of life, disturb the silent air. My heart would be hammering in my chest and tears would be streaming down my face and I was a little girl hidden away in the closet and whether I liked it or not I was there. Alive. Alive.
I was a little girl when I climbed out from the back of that closet for the last time, but I was a much bigger girl when I stopped existing and started living. When I embraced my life, my humanity instead of running in the other direction and wishing for anything, anything else. Sometimes I am still tempted by Nothing, where all the beauty of happiness and the stab of sorrow are forgotten, where my heart doesn’t have to ache for my mother’s illness or the lost love and my mind is relieved of all the thoughts, the questions, the memories.
Life will find you no matter where you are, even if its in the back of your parent’s closet in your childhood home.
So now I let the fire into my heart.
Sometimes it warms.
Sometimes it burns.
Sometimes it devours.
But it cannot, cannot be put out.