Saturday, March 1, 2008

Where Does The Inspiration to Write Come From

For Valentine's Day my sweet husband ordered "Becoming Jane" from netflicks. He gift wrapped it and promised to watch it with me, which for him was slow torture (he likes shoot'em up, mindless action), which is why I thought it was so sweet. So we sent the children to bed early, put in the movie and it was the wrong one! We ended up watching another movie which neither of us liked but its the thought that counts.

The reason I brought this up is last night I finally got to watch "Becoming Jane." When the show ended, it left me unsettled. Bottomline, the reason she wrote the stories she did was a result of her failed relationship. It was a way that she could vicariously "rescript" her unsatisfying existence. When I was at college, I was horrified at the background of each of my favorite writers. It seemed like the writers with the most fire were those with the most tortured lives. (see more at http://www.dailycardinal.com/article/874)

Looking at my own situation, I know the first draft of my first manuscript was exactly that. It flowed as I whipped out all the clever phrases I wished I had said to women that had been so catty to me. I twisted the plot to give them their just desserts or to wake them up to what they were doing. I ranted for nearly 800 pages and it was marvelous therapy but it wasn't great writing. After many edits, I totally threw away the main story but found during the entire event, I wanted something special to balance the story and created an uplifting and amazing subplot. It was when I polished this idea, that I felt I had something that was of real value.

Facing my next project has been an interesting challenge. Without the drive of emotion pushing me forward, I don't feel compelled to write but want to. A great story seemed to blossom in my mind and when I try to reach for something else, it wiggles out and won't leave me alone. It's a nice feeling, like a friend coming to visit and I'm enjoying this process.

The difference between venting and inventing is substantial. I don't believe good writers need to be tortured, although writing is a great way to figure out what is really happening to ourselves and our lives. But I do have to ask the question, how much of your writing is spurred on by personal conflict. Like a painter who works off a still life or Norman Rockwell who used photographs that he interposed into Americana scenes, isn't the well we draw from our own experience?

Perhaps it is because I am such an inexperienced writer that most of my characters are friends or people I have met or observed, cast into the roles in my story. Then I simply imagine what they would say in that circumstance. I try to be true to their motivations and driving forces through out the story and have them come to some new truth through the experience.

I'm curious how you do it...

3 comments:

  1. I think all writing is somewhat autobiographical because it has to come from our own experience. If you put 10 writers in a room and gave them the same prompt, you'd end up with 10 very different pieces. We all write with our own background and experiences and we write our stories through our own eys, that's what makes each story so different.

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  2. I enjoyed reading your post, Christine. I have heard more than one author say that his/her early, if not first, books were very autobiographical. I also agree that there is a substantial difference between venting and inventing. I also believe that if we do not put our heart into the things we are writing, they will not touch the hearts of our readers. I don't think we have to experience something in order to write well about it, but I do think we need to have a passion for it...does that make sense?

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  3. Christine, thanks for your posting. I liked it. Now, I'm taking you up on your challenge to tell about how I write. It won't help much, since I'm not only about the oldest, but probably the most dilatory, "don't like the work, but would love to have written" kind of writer. I dabble in this or that, but bio gets me going. When we have a writing contest, like a BIAM, I joyfully and recklessly record my own experiences and observations. I overdo. I write every little memory that comes to my mind, organizing all these random thoughts only according to the approximate year, or place of residence. Occasionally I'll list a few key words to spur me on but that's about it.

    I try to make each memory interesting, but I haven't edited except the little things that bug me as I go. I've written approimately 200,000 words and am only into the mid 1950's. That's not much more than a third of my life. I'd better start hurrying.

    I think if my kids ever do read it, they'll have to do like the old song popular for a short time maybe in the 40's. The singer claimed his girl was too fat to get his arm around, so he resorted to, "Huggin' and a chalkin'". More probably, my descendants will emulate my son-in-law when, with the letters I sent home from our mission in Australia, he "posted them on the bathroom wall and read them in installments."

    See? I warned you I was not a good example. But, if I never get finished, or never even edit, at least it's great practice, and gives something to look forward to finishing.

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