You know how sometimes you go to an event and you’re really fired up and inspired, but you get home and find that the mundane realities of your life get in the way and you can’t make use of that energy? I think that’s what happened to me this past week. I’m hoping I didn’t completely lose the feeling that I had on Wednesday night – that I can find that again for this blog post. Especially considering what I learned that night was all about capturing a feeling in writing.
The downtown library hosted William (Bill) Kenower as part of the month’s writing focus for National Novel Writing Month. “Why We Write” sounded intriguing, so I put it on the calendar, but when the time came to leave the house it was dark and icy cold and I almost convinced myself it wasn’t worth going. In the end I just put on my warm clothes on autopilot and walked down there without overthinking it. I figured I could hide at the back and slip out if it wasn’t my scene.
As it turned out, not a chance – it was a very small group of wannabe writers arrayed around a table, only one person close to my age, the rest being considerably older, and the speaker had gotten lost and delayed because his navi system didn’t know we had a downtown library, so we had all done intros and chatted for 20 minutes when the author charged in. He was forceful and had a very focused energy and he got right to the point – what kind of writing did we do, and what was standing between us and our endgame? What obstacle was standing in the way of our writing the way we wanted?
He cut off all talk of who we were writing for, all overthinking, figuring things out, all the things that weren’t feeling and writing. He told us to stop thinking so much, but especially to stop thinking about whether our writing was any good. Putting our imagination to work on what people would think of our writing would never get us anywhere. (If we ask our brain to imagine failure, it will do an awesome job for us!) Writing, he said, was about the feeling that you want to communicate, and writing is not good or bad – it either accurately conveys the intended feeling, or does not.
I think if I’d written this post right after the workshop like I’d intended to I might have captured more of the excitement and inspiration I was feeling right afterwards. I was geeking on everything for a couple of days, talking everyone’s ears off. That’s the energy that needs to go into writing – I’ve heard authors talk about not talking very much because they want to get their feelings onto paper. Maybe I’m a talker rather than a writer! ;)
I was especially geeking about the notion of creativity – one of the participants claimed she was not creative, and she seemed really doubtful even as the speaker claimed that we’re all Mozart-level creative, if we can just find our outlet. For some people it’s writing, others drawing, others music – and I would argue that there are hundreds of other ways to be creative. Problem solving, movement, gardening, and food preparation all come to mind. I asked her what she loved as a child, because everyone is extremely creative when they are 5. I’m sure that creative self is still inside there, even if schools and teachers and adulthood and responsibility have smothered it in some people. I’m always perplexed by people who don’t make or design or imagine. I have a lot of confidence in my creative self.
The next day at work I talked to SG who is taking her first academic writing class and was given the exact opposite advice about audience – that it should be the starting place. That’s pretty common advice, and I think it can be good advice to imagine a specific supportive friend who you know would geek this thing if you could just tell them about it. That’s not why you write though – you write because there’s this thing/feeling you have to tell the world about – but I have found that writing to someone can get me started. I guess academic writing might be a different beast.
SG also told me something amazing about creativity. Apparently someone asked a group of adults what they would change if they could alter one aspect of their body. You can imagine – smaller nose, longer legs, thinner, tanner, bigger muscles – fixing their most bothersome physical flaw. The kids heard the same question in a totally different way. They asked for wings, dragon scales, feathers, giant eyes, a range of fantastical body mods that the sensible adults didn’t even consider. I was so surprised when S told me that because I didn’t see that coming at all – I had been thinking in a perfectly uncreative adult way! (It says a lot about body image as well.)
I noted some key ideas from the discussion on Wed night:
- what we should write is what sparks our curiosity and interest, the things that intrigue and excite us. That’s where our energy will be.
- when we say we don’t know what to say what we’re really encountering is not knowing how it felt.
- there are 3 arcs to every story – the physical is what actually happened and is the least important part in many ways (there are only so many things that can happen in stories – the tropes like “boy bets his friends he can date the dorky girl, gets to know her, falls in love, friends reveal the bet, angst, couple gets together in the end” have been done a million times); the emotional is the motivation behind the characters, what drives them to do what they do (the back story of why the girl is dorky, how and why does the boy connect with her); the intentional arc is why we write, what point or message or gift we’re trying to give with this story (hope, love, etc).
- contrast is essential – you can’t show love without loneliness, hope without hopelessness, happiness without angst.
- stop “figuring it out” – find it! listen.
- ask the most interesting question and then listen for the answer.
- listening is the most important skill it seems – listening to yourself.
It’s always interesting to read over these kinds of notes after the event. Some of them are direct word for word quotes which made more sense when they came from the speaker’s mouth, backed up by his certainty. Some of them are ideas that I later melded with my own feelings and ideas. I wrote the first part of this post before I got out the notes I had made – those are the parts that I internalized.
I still don’t really know what kind of writer I want to be. I don’t have to have the big answers. I write what catches my curiosity here, and that’s a good start. (The blogging experts would say that I need to have a narrower focus, but I’m a scanner and right now I don’t want to have 5 different blogs for my various interests!) I told Kenower that I can’t fiction, and maybe that’s not really true. But my excitement isn’t in making up stories. So far that hasn’t been my thing. I would like to learn more about fictioning some day. It’s been a while since I believed that I can’t do it – I know I just haven’t learned how to do it yet.
I’m really glad I dragged myself out of the house. It was totally worth 10 minutes of freezing my butt off walking down the street in the icy wind. And I met a new friend – hey D! Hope your nanowrimo is coming along well.
Next time I might finally revise and post something I wrote months ago – a little tribute to an author who was ahead of his time. I remembered about it when I was talking publishing with D after the event. Or, you know, something completely different. I owe you an update on my 30 Days of Thankful project too.
btw William Kenower’s book is Write Within Yourself. I put it on my goodreads shelf to read. He is also editor-in-chief of the online Author magazine, which includes a radio show/podcast conversations with authors, as well as articles, videos and a blog.
Thanks for stopping by,