Tag Archives: fiction

justifying what we love

Hello, you brilliance you. How is this still-early day of the year finding you? How is your writing today? How is your heart? What do you want to hear about? What are you afraid of or curious about or reaching for this year? What creative or healing intentions have you set for 2014?

At the first Dive Deep meeting on Sunday, we laid out our intentions for our six months’ work together — folks are wanting to complete first or final drafts, generate new stories, prepare manuscripts for submission, reengage in daily writing practices. I found it difficult to choose one project to focus on — I’ve got several asking for my attention at the moment — but decided to make my novel the project I’d bring to Dive Deep for accountability and how do I even say this? My struggle around the novel is that it’s fiction, it’s a very long work, and for me to really be in it means stepping fully outside of my other work for a couple of hours at a time at least. The prompt I brought for us to write to at the beginning of the meeting was, “Why this project, why now?” Why do you need this book or story or practice? Why are you the one to write it? Why should it happen now?

I can answer those questions easily for all of my other projects — they’re related to Writing Ourselves Whole, they’re nonficiton projects, they are aimed specifically at helping others in their own creative practices: I can justify my time on them. It’s not frivolous for me to work on the nonficiton book about writing practice as transformation for survivors of trauma, or the collection of stories from the erotic reading circle (that is so very very overdue). But working on fiction? How is that helping the revolution? And (more immediately), how is that helping to pay the rent? How is that getting food on the table?

How is spending my time writing a made-up story worthwhile?

If anyone else in my life asked that question, I would just about hop out of my chair with all the thousand responses that arose in me. I would invite them to name all the works of fiction that have sustained them during times of difficulty or struggle, characters that helped them to feel less alone, stories that helped them to see the world in a new way or learn a new truth. Stories are what we have to help us make sense of ourselves, our lives, and our possibility. Each new story offers a new possibility into the world — and it can be a constructive possibility or a destructive one. Stories can teach us to be empathetic with others. It gives someone hope, or company, can undermine conventional wisdom, can remind us that this whole thing called living is wholly absurd and gorgeous.

Author Brad Meltzer says, in post entitled “Does Fiction Matter,”

…that’s why books get banned. That’s why they ban Maya Angelou and Judy Blume and Mark Twain. Because stories change us.

And the writing itself changes those of us who write, too, of course — reshapes our knowing, recalibrates our insides, heals us when we write about our difficult experiences (whether fictionally or not) and can help us even when we write about characters we invent out of whole cloth.

The books and stories that have been my closest companions through this life have nearly all been fictional. I have looked to the characters to help me understand how to survive, how to be in relationship with others, how to express and tangle with desire, how to make change, how to live.

Stories matter and impact all who hear them, be they “true” or “fiction.” We know that, right? I take a deep breath — no matter how many times I say it, it seems I still need reminding myself.

So, back to that Dive Deep meeting on Sunday: I committed to return attention to my novel, and work with her at least two hours per week. I haven’t had my novel date yet this week; there were emails to respond to, morning pages to struggle through, this post to write, an essay for another book to work on … there’s always a reason to put the heart work last on the to-do list.

Of course, if a workshop participant came to me with all those Very Important and Good Reasons that they couldn’t get to the work they say they love, I would direct them to this poem from Tony Hoagland, and this reminder from Natalie Goldberg — in order to allow our words to emerge, we have to make room for what doesn’t usually appear on our to-do lists. We have to write “novel” in our datebooks and then keep that writing date. We have to clear out room in the middle of all that Reasonable, Rational, Have-To, and Should that constantly clutters up the living room floor.

What are your creative intentions for 2014? What irrational writing project wants some of your attention? What space can you make on your calendar for the necessary work of creative life– invention and fantasy; naps; conversations with dogs and birds and bare winter branches?

Thanks to you for the ways you have allowed fiction into your heart and bloodstream, for the ways you both create and welcome stories that reshape and reconsider and recreate possibility.

trouble (morning write)

Good morning and good morning! Today the sun is working hard to push through the night’s fog. Is that a metaphor? Couldn’t it be so?

~~ ~~ ~~ ~~ ~~

Taylor Swift called me today and said, “I want your life.” I said, “I know, right?” She said, “Seriously, I’m just so fucking exhausted and everybody wants a piece of me — I mean, I’m twenty-three years old and I’ve got these old greasy music guys fucking creaming themselves over me, all while singing some sing about how they’ve gotta make me look cuter and younger for the little girl fans.” She sighed and took a sip of something. I looked at the clock, wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. It was 6:30am. I hoped she was drinking coffee, but then I heard the ice clink and figured straight bourbon. She’s a down-home girl, you know.

“You’re going to use this, aren’t you?” Taylor asked. Continue reading

thinking about the narrator

describing writing ourselves whole in a wordcloud! As a certified Amherst Writers and Artists workshop facilitator, I use this structure for all of my writing workshops:
1) keep all writing offered in the workshops confidential
2) offer exercises as suggestions
3) remind folks that sharing is optional
4) respond to all writing as though it’s fiction and with what we liked/found strong

Now, the Writing Ourselves Whole workshops that I facilitate (survivors writing workshops and erotic writing workshops) often end up, at least for many (but not all!) participants, being ‘life writing’ opportunities workshops, where the writing is a telling of our own stories, getting into that thick truth of the everyday stories we exist within.

As a facilitator (and as a writer) I am interested in making/having opportunities for us to tell the whole truth(s) and so at first when I am going through the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) practices with a new group, I describe the way the method holds space for all this openness: you get to write whatever you want here because we keep it all confidential, and you get to do the exercise or not do the exercise whatever you want, you can even write about how much you hate the exercise and you can read it or not and if you read we only say what we like and what’s strong…

Erupting from the structure of open hands (sculpture outside Creighton University) and then scratch screech wham I feel like I’m pulling on the breaks around all that freedom (although that’s not the case). The piece that can be the most challenging for folks new to the AWA method is the part where we talk about all the writing as though it’s fiction. Unless instructed otherwise by the writer, we talk about the narrator and the characters in the piece (rather than saying ‘you’ to indicate that the writer and the one written about is necessarily the same).

Initially, this can feel like a confusing irritation. I sense folks cringing under the weight of one more thing to remember and how do you talk about fiction anyway what if I do this part wrong?>

I take a deep breath. I say, this is how we talk about it – we don’t know what’s fiction and what’s nonfiction – we don’t need to know.

what you say - how you say it, a pie chart from aspieteacher.com This is what I want to talk about: the wording matters. How we talk about something matters.

There’s a space enacted when I talk about your story in the 3rd person; there’s a different intimacy, in a way: slightly less immediacy, more distance, which, when we’re handling something raw and electrified like brand new writing        is a good and useful thing.

We offer each other risky stories in these workshops – and in most writing spaces. We need to be tender with each other in response. This guideline is part of the tenderness, the way we set a structure that creates a space for enormous risk: we won’t tear it down, and we won’t tie it to you. We won’t point at you while we are talking about it.

Here’s the other thing that happens – if we have made fiction with our stories, suddenly we are strung up on the line of It All Has To Be True when someone refers to the “you” from the story as fact        we all know there is a difference between facts and truth…

being able to see our rose-colored glasses
One more thing? Talking about the piece of writing as though it’s fiction gives us as peer writers and respondents the chance to forefront and acknowledge our lenses. There’s room for each of our interpretations. If I have written a story about some situation between, say, my sister and I, and to many people it sounds sad and I am trying to find language for the joy in a difficult moment, response to that piece will likely run a gamut from “I felt the happiness they got to have at that difficult time” to “they were so sad and that was really strong for me, came through really clearly.” When someone ‘misinterprets’ me when I am speaking, especially in response to something intimate or personal or painful, and I feel the need to clarify, to correct. Within this structure, though, I have the freedom (the gift!) of hearing multiple interpretations of my telling – I get to hear multiple readers’ responses, what they hear in my writing, what they bring, too, to their hearing. I don’t have to take it personally – it reminds me that every reader (including editors – and friends/lovers/parents!) have a lens, bring what they’ve experienced to a story.

hematite sphere, from moonlightmysteries.com There’s a working space that gets opened up around us when one person puts her words in the room and then all of us, the writer included, gets to look at those words as a bit detached from the writer herself. We get to turn the story over, allow response to all of its angles, aspects, curves, undersides. Often, I picture the story as a silvery-malachite ball floating next to the writer: we all get to enjoy this creation for what it is, exactly as it is, expecting nothing more from it (even if we didn’t want it to end while we were listening).

For me as a human subject, it’s difficult to be examined, responded to this way – I get a little prickly and nervous, even if all the feedback and words I hear I know are supposed to be ‘good’ and strong – still there’s a discomfort, more

In a way, talking about the new writing as fiction objectifies the work in the best way, highlights its status as an artistic creation as opposed to a confession, and allows us as writers and as listeners to experience the distance between who we are and how we tell it; this part of the structure also holds the separation between writing group and therapy group. These workshops are not therapy groups. We are creating art while we put language to difficult or new or exciting or scary or sexy or socially-unacceptable truths.

What happens in that in-between space, the transformation of memory and fantasy into words and onto paper, is sacred, and talking about a work as though it’s fiction protects and honors that space and that artistry in all of us.

Your turn: How is it for you, if you’ve participated in an AWA workshop or facilitated such a space — what’s your experience of the ‘fiction’ part of our practice?