Returning to My Literary Roots, Part IV

The literary roots I described in Parts I, II, and III of this series are all books that influenced me during my childhood. For my last post in this series, I want to do something a little different. I want to talk about my current work in progress.

The emotional core of my novel lives in the questions I ask about the darkest days of my childhood. Although the adults in my life loved me, my peers saw me as a freak and they excluded and teased me. Even the people I thought were my friends consistently told stories of adventures they had with friends outside of school, adventures that didn’t include me. I wondered what was wrong with me and despaired of ever having friends.

Eventually, I discovered that I could minimize my suffering by stifling my feelings and repressing my reactions to the world. But, this is a bad habit and the unintended consequences have not been pleasant to live with.

Over the past two decades, I have slowly been breaking down the walls that I put up in order to survive. In the process, I have come back to creative writing. It has been an indirect and not always conscious journey.

About a year ago, I realized my novel is trying to tell a story that gives a redemptive reason for the outsider status that tormented me. And, to tell this story with emotional truth, I must first connect with the pain that needs redeeming. Making this connection has been my struggle over the past year.

Last week, I started The Fundamental Novelist course because I wanted to shake-up my process and see if I could break through some of my internal barriers. Two of the exercises I have worked on as homework have helped me do exactly that.

In both cases, I started with a seemingly innocuous memory associated with my years in elementary school and wrote the exercise from that starting point. In both cases, I ended up revealing emotional material I had been unable to tap into directly.

Both of these exercises are from Alice LaPlante’s book, The Making of a Story. The first involved finishing the phrase, “I don’t know why I remember…” and then continuing to write. The second involved using a dozen or more details to create a compelling description of a place.

Between them, these two exercises touched my memories and brought them to conscious awareness. Once the memories that provided the impulse for the novel were awakened, my creative muse took over. The night after completing those exercises, I woke suddenly at 2am knowing how to present those emotional realities in the context of the novel. The scene that would reveal my heroine’s initial pain pulled itself together in my sleep that night. I still need to write the complete scene, but I wrote a detailed outline that night and have a picture in my mind’s eye.

I wrote last month about the need to write fearward, to go to the places that hurt us and to let our writing bleed onto the page. In my case, the roots of my story are the pains of my childhood. And I am thrilled to witness myself finding ways to open those wounds enough to write from them.

May we all have the courage to face the wounds from which we must heal.


About Kate Arms-Roberts

Posted on March 18, 2012, in Creativity, This Writing Life and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. You’re freeing your intellectual OE. The freer it gets, the more the pen will write by itself with you reading the story for the first time as the pen writes. Even JK Rowling described it as have many other writers: A lightning bolt suddenly hits you (the finally connection to the intellectual OE) and it shocks you. You pick up the pen and the electricity flows onto the paper. The next step is to not slow it down, not think about the literary or grammar mechanics, just let the words flow as fast as possible. At least with me, speed is important because if anything slows me down, lines are forgotten and difficult to bring back. In fact, I use a pen on the first draft many times because the backspace key I found kills lines in my head. When I wrote book #2 I literally cried on the manuscript. So sometimes, isolation while writing is a good thing. You can really let that pain flow into your writing without feeling self conscious. At least, this is what I found.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      I so wish that I could isolate myself and just write for a month to dig into this stuff. With four small kids at home, the need to hold myself together enough to feed them three meals and two snacks a day and make sure they get to bed and wake up on time adds to my challenge.
      But, big stuff is happening these days. I hope it continues.

  2. Kate, this is profound. I’m so glad for you. This takes a ton of courage. Not just what you’re going through to get to those places so you can have such a deep breakthrough with your novel, but blogging about it so honestly.

    The past few days, ever since I read about Gingericana in Part I, I’ve been going through a similar process alongside of you (except not directly based in childhood). I couldn’t have known you were going to post this today, but yesterday I did writing as well as inner exploring that could be described by your final two paragraphs above.

    It’s as if your process is so powerful I’m picking up on it in unseen ways as well as here on your blog. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this with your blog readers. And I thank my inner self, for being ready.

    • Kate Arms-Roberts

      I am so glad for you, too.

      And how cool is it that we can take these steps in parallel and share the process.

      Hamlet’s line “the readiness is all” springs to my mind. Here we are, ready and leaping.

  3. Kate,

    Thank you for remembering, also on line,
    and for sharing from your own experience at internal barriers
    along with finding ways through while caring and carrying with the children.

    Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s “The Invitation” comes to mind:

    “…I want to know if you can get up
    after the night of grief and despair
    weary and bruised to the bone
    and do what needs to be done
    to feed the children…”



  1. Pingback: Maintaining Momentum « Kate Arms-Roberts

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