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.