Archives for August 2013

WRITING RAW V. WRITING RECONSTRUCTED

magnifying glassWhen we write fiction based on our lives, is it best to write about events when we are still emotionally raw—or after we’ve had a chance to process and integrate them? I like the “Momma Bear” solution: not too raw, not too reconstructed.

FAR AND NEAR
In Chasing Grace: A Novel of Odd Redemption, the easiest parts to write were those that I’d processed and integrated most fully. The Immaculate Conception Grammar School sections in which the protagonist, Cat, is 6-10 years old were so much fun to write that I sat at my computer for weeks—writing and cackling, writing and cackling. I was having so much fun remembering the crazy nuns, the statues of saints scattered over every surface, the “Living Rosary” out on the parking lot, the buying of Pagan Babies, and all the hysterical things that happened that I went on and on—and on! I had to cut that part to about a quarter of its original length, and it’s still too long. The Immaculate Conception chapters were great fun for me, and people tell me they read funny, but I’m not sure they are the best parts of the book.

Other sections, like the relationship between Cat and her mother, were more difficult. While writing these sections was very therapeutic for me (I often say that writing Chasing Grace was worth tens of thousands of dollars of therapy), I’m not sure they are the best sections either.

THE MIDDLE DISTANCE  
The “Momma Bear” parts of Chasing Grace—those that weren’t entirely new or raw, but that were not so integrated or “over” that I tossed them around like the Immaculate Conception sections—were sometimes challenging to write, but they are some of my favorites. Two that come to mind are the sections in the High Rockies where Cat experiences Spirit, and the final scenes when grace finally descends.

Bottom line, I think the “far or near” question is one we all have to answer for ourselves. The trick is to base that answer not on what’s fun, or on what is therapeutic, but on what is best for the book—and our readers.

WRITING ON THE SKIDS

SkierHow often have we heard that happiness is an inside job? I believe that writing is an inside job as well. It’s whatever we make it. It can be hard, enervating, and frustrating—or inspired, uplifting, and fulfilling. Like many aspects of life, it’s all about our attitude.

ON THE SKIDS: PRO AND CON “I feel like I’m on the skids whenever I sit down to write,” a client told me the other day. Here are a few of Dictionary.com’s rather alarming definitions of “on the skids”:

  •         In the process of decline or deterioration
  •         On the downward path to ruin, poverty, and depravity

Yikes! Writing always asks us to go more deeply within ourselves, to find new insights, feelings, and ways to express ourselves. That’s often uncomfortable—but each time we reach that point of discomfort, we have a choice. We can let ourselves sink into being, if not on the road to “ruin, poverty, and depravity,” at least heading toward a bad mood or a defeated attitude.

Or we can think of “the skids” as skis, or as runners on a sled. These kinds of “skids” propel us forward automatically; all we have to do is maintain our balance. That mental balance means choosing to see the writing discomfort as an opportunity, something that takes us deeper and makes us better writers. Maybe even better people!

I’m not saying I can do this every time I hit a tough spot, but writing and life are certainly more fun, easier, and richer when I make the effort.

KHALED HOSSEINI’S SECRET

KhaledWe all have our pet cures for writers block, and my favorite is one suggested recently by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns, and And the Mountains Echoed.

On “Morning Joe” (8/1/13) he said, “I just start to write something. I start writing, even when I don’t know what I’m going to say. The tough part is beginning. It’s like taking the first postage stamp off a sheet of stamps. The first one is hard to get off, but it gets easier and easier.”

When asked where he gets his inspiration when writers block strikes, he said, “I have a healthy relationship with writers block. I don’t look at it as ‘I can’t think of anything to say.’ I just realize that my approach isn’t working. I step back and take a panoramic view, and think outside the box. (Editor’s note: In the Zone?) The answer is always a surprise.”

He went on to say that he never plans where his books are going or plots out the whole novel. He usually has a vague idea of what might happen with that day’s writing, and he starts there. But even when he has no idea what to put on the empty screen, he starts.

Hosseini writes for love, as we all do, but I find his description of this relationship inspiring, and have made a little sign for my desk with this quote from his interview in Writer’s Digest (July/August 2013):

The temptation to give up, to surrender, is very, very strong. And you have to have faith in the work that you’re doing. You have to have faith that as dark and unlikely and as dreary as things may seem, that it’s worth pursuing, and that there’s a good chance you’ll be glad you did. Writing a novel—this is a cliché—is like a marriage. There are ups and downs, there are times when you just want to leave and close the door, you just want to be alone, you don’t want to hear that voice, and so on and so forth, but it’s well worth it, and I’ve learned that, to stick with it.

You know, I came close to abandoning all three of my books—very, very close, multiple times—where life seemed so much more pleasant if I just didn’t have to try to work my way through the impasse. But I kept working, and I’m thankful every day that I did.

Words to live by, for all of us.