Side Tracked by other Notions
/by Fiona Smith/
There are many reasons to write. For some it is to become published, for others it may be an outlet, or simply a desire to improve on an innate ability. As a child I wrote because I wanted to tell stories. I loved to read, and I wanted people to know what was inside my head. So I wrote stories about magical music boxes, and trees that were gateways to underground kingdoms. I once wrote a poem about all the things I’d do if I were a fairy. In my mother’s eyes this poem, written at the grand age of eight, is my greatest accomplishment – despite having had quite a few stories published in various magazines. And so this half illustrated, half coloured-in scroll is currently laminated and hanging in her office for all to see.
Around about the age of fifteen something happened to my writing – suddenly it was PRIVATE. Writing was now a covert practise. Files were password protected on our home computer, and all my notepads suddenly had little locks on them. My writing was no longer for public consumption. The content of my scribbles changed as well. Stories were no longer whimsical tales of other lands- but long drawn out essays on every aspect of my daily life. My writing was no longer an outlet for my imagination but an outlet for my emotions. I wasn’t writing for other people – I was writing for myself.
For me there are two different occasions when I am motivated to write. The first is when a thunderbolt idea hits me. I use to get thunderbolts all the time as a child. An idea just appears and instantly you need to start mapping it out on paper. Sometimes these ideas are all consuming; you think about the characters and their motivations while showering, you picture whole conversations between the main characters during
meetings at work your lunch break, the plot twists and turns in your mind as you walk to the supermarket. The original thunderbolt has grown into something quite wonderful. You’ve worked really hard to get this story on to paper. You know your characters inside and out, and you’re on Draft 64 of the editing process, as a result you want to show it off to the world. And you’re not wrong, this story deserves an audience.
So there’s the all-consuming idea, which is so utterly brilliant it must be shared with the entire planet the second you find the very last typo, and then there’s what I call “I haven’t seen the sun in 261 days, the soundtrack to my life is Muse, I don’t have a boyfriend, and I’m so frazzled I just found my keys in the oven” writing. For the most part anyone who has survived through adolescence has written something which falls into this category. In a nutshell it’s Pity Writing. There is no great idea, no solid characters, no beautifully constructed metaphors. The brain is not engaged during Pity Writing. Our fingers are being motivated by emotion; fear, anger and frustration.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Pity Writing – it’s brilliantly therapeutic. As a teenager I hoarded my Pity Writing. I kept every tearstained notebook about the frustrations of growing up in a tiny village. (By the time I left for University I had 56 notebooks.) I mistakenly thought my Pity Writing was wonderful. I thought the stream of consciousness was raw, and unabashed. I was like Sylvia Plath… just minus the suicide. In a way my Pity Writing was wonderful, it was a testament to every emotion and frustration I felt during that time, and it helped me move on. It also provided me with my innate style and voice. However even at the age of fifteen I instinctively knew that this sort of writing was – NOT FIT FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION. Nowadays I don’t hoard the Pity, I write down whatever is on my mind and after I’ve read and reflected on my self-indulgent drivel, I light a match and watch the words burn away (in actual reality I click on the document and drag it to the recycle bin on my desktop – but then this is nowhere as symbolic or as visually exciting as FIRE. Damn you technology. )
While reflecting on this, perhaps self-indulgent drivel, (where’s the matches now? I hear you ask) I’ve realised the point I’ve been attempting to make all along. Writing must engage both brain and heart. When we have our thunderbolt, we’re engaged both creatively and emotionally to the piece, which results in a well-crafted story.
And so yet again in a nut-shell:
- There is absolutely nothing wrong with “I haven’t seen the sun in 261 days, the soundtrack to my life is Muse, I don’t have a boyfriend, and I’m so frazzled I just found my keys in the oven” writing. It’s incredibly therapeutic, and a brilliant way to release pent up emotions.
- The trick is learning when you’ve written something which is self- indulgent and not fit for public consumption.
- The ideal story is written while engaging both head and heart.
- If you ever have a daughter who moans about the badly written poem you have on display in your office, don’t pay too much attention – she is secretly amazed by how proud you are of her writing and loves you dearly for it.
And finally apologies to any of you who expected to read a blog on the therapeutic nature of writing. This was the original purpose of my blog but as with most things in life I became side-tracked by other notions…