Tag Archives: writing tips

The Articulation of Stories as Scars

Last week during a reading of some blog post or another (and for the life of me I wish I had kept the reference to link you to it; I went searching through my browser history without luck) and this idea developed:

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My apologies to the original author whose work I was reading because I don’t think my thought is originally mine, simply a reworking or a remixing of what I had read and I don’t want to pass this statement off as purely my own. I’m using it as a launching point for discussion. 

As a story teller, the narrative I am creating has a purpose. For my writing, I want to explore the lives of ordinary people, to understand who they are, their decisions and the ramifications.

I do not write autobiographically so the story is not an attempt to exorcise a past, redress an indiscretion or justify a choice. But a narrative, once released to the reader, can wound or heal. 

A story has the potential to open up issues in the reader’s past, or to dress a wound. Such is the power a story can wield. As a writer, I don’t know what the impact a story will have on the reader, and it is my hope that the story I write will move the reader in some way.

The stories we tell one another, orally or written, are evidence of the life we have lived. Those stories are like scars; wounds inflicted by accident, neglect, or others. They are markers of who we are, what we were, what we have become and what we want to be.

Sometimes those scars are worn with pride. Sometimes those scars are hidden. Sometimes those scars are repurposed, redecorated.

This is the power of the story.

Handwritten Pages #8

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She watched the rain fall in light sheets, imagining a giant cloth wiping away the crumbs of a broken day.
Yet in the morning when the rain had ceased and the dampness dissipated a thin film of dirt remained. The skerricks of an eraser left after rubbing out the pencil marks on a sheet of paper. To make the new day fresh required more work than she expected.

 

SIDE NOTE: When I was writing this, transcribing it from my notebook where I first scribbled the idea, I asked myself why I ascribed the feminine pronoun to the character of the narrative. It was arbitrary, without conscious assignation.

I then reread the paragraph replacing ‘she’ with ‘he’ and saw a different reading. As a personal reflection, I think I tend to write more from a female perspective than a male one. For purely unscientific research I did a gender breakdown on the Handwritten Pages.

  1. “I” (indeterminate)
  2. Couple (male/female)
  3. Female (2 sisters)
  4. Female 
  5. “I” (indeterminate)
  6. He
  7. Male (2 brothers)
  8. Female

In examining the content of each piece, the seemingly arbitrary allocation of gender pronouns was determined by its focus. The third Handwritten Page was inspired by a friend’s recollection of her childhood with her sisters so it was a natural response to use the feminine. 

In last week’s Handwritten Page I ascribed masculine pronouns, except to the “I” persona. In reality it could easily be the sibling rivalry between a brother and sister yet in my head it was between brothers; we tend to pair brothers with brothers and sisters with sisters in terms of sibling rivalry and not a brother/sister combination.

It also made me think about how the content of a narrative influences the reader’s understanding of gender. Does it affirm or subvert paradigms? Why or why not? Just asking.

But the distinction of female or male POV in a narrative made me think about how I read gender in a story (being male) and how others would read the piece above (male or female). I know men and women will read the paragraph differently based on their own gender, and their reading of gender. 

Try reading today’s piece replacing ‘she’ with ‘he’. Does it make a difference in your reading? What nuances or differences are borne out of a different reading? Does it matter? I’m interested in your ideas.

Handwritten Pages #7

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My brother and I sailed paper boats made from sheets of grease proof paper down the gutter after heavy rain. A peaceful camaraderie in a turbulent sibling rivalry. 
We raced them from our driveway, running alongside on the nature strip, swooping down to collect them before they were swallowed by stormwater drain eight houses down.
They were sailed until they were soggy and losing integrity before we let them disappear down the gaping maw of the stormwater.
One day I set my boat adrift, letting it chase my brother’s, but did not follow it. I watched it retreat before turning away, knowing its destination, and went inside.
Later I found two boats on the dining room table sitting on a plastic plate in a puddle of water. Two boats sailing calmly midst every storm.

Digging the Creative Well

As creatives we often speak of drawing from the well; to draw from within ourselves the creative spark and energy.

But to draw from the well of creativity first requires you to dig your own. It requires you to construct the access to creative water. 

While you are digging your own well, you can draw water from the wells of others to help your creativity. However, it is temporary measure. Drawing water from others’ wells enables you to draw strength while you are building your own.

Finding good water takes time. It may require digging many wells to find the source of good water. Once you have dug your well do not neglect the upkeep. 

As you have drawn from the wells of others, allow new creatives to draw from your well while they dig their own.

Think it’s time to break out the heavy machinery and start digging.

Handwritten Pages #2

The second instalment of Handwritten Pages. This one was inspired while reading Amanda Palmer’s book, “The Art of Asking.”

I cannot recommend her book highly enough if you are a creative person. It is a heartfelt and affirming read; quite challenging to accept her premise sometimes but as a creative person there is such a wealth of ideas to gain from it. If time is of the essence, listen to her TED Talk.

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The couple sit across from each other at the dining room table, each with a pen and a pad of Post It Notes.
In silence they share a communion of scribbled notes, stick figure cartoons and random doodles intermingled wiht a chorus of laughter, sighs and whispers.
There is a solemn but playful sincerity to their ritual as the notes pass back and forth.
He passes a note to her; the body of Christ.
She receives it. Reads and responds.
She passes a note to him; the blood of Christ.
He receives it. Reads and responds.
He offers his hand and they stand to leave with the benediction spoken on paper.
They leave the notes as holy writ.

Handwritten Pages

What I don’t do enough of is write by hand, letting the pen and paper become an exploration. Yesterday I was inspired by a blog post on calligraphy to use my notebooks more effectively.

I know writers who use Julia Cameron’s (The Artist’s Way) technique of morning pages. The idea is you free write first thing in the morning as it clears the head and channels a creative flow. Mornings don’t work for me but the concept of free writing association can be done at any time. 

I want to use a specific notebook of mine for this exercise as it is unlined meaning I can use the space on the page to convey meaning as much as the words do. I can alter my handwriting style, use colour, draw shapes or doodle images. Over the coming months I will share more handwritten explorations.

Below is the first attempt at using a notebook for handwritten explorations. Nothing fancy. Just text. 

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“I dab the tissue at the pinpoint of blood on my fingertip, blotting the word that pools. The tissue is spattered with random words bleeding into one another in a random game of Scrabble. Another word forms and I place it on my tongue to break it down to letters and reabsorb it. The blank page waits patiently as I resist the urge to open a vein.”

Two New Poems for Old Acquaintances

At the end of last year, two of my colleagues left. One retired and one was returning home to another state before heading off travelling.

In a sudden moment of ideas, I composed a poem for each. I couldn’t read them aloud myself because I hate farewells and ended up a blubbering mess in the corner while other colleagues read them for me. Wuss that I am.

I will share them with you, even though you don’t have the context of the people I know because I like them as stand alone poems.

 

Athena’s Owl

The light is extinguished at day’s end
the filament fades from white to orange to yellow to black
                                                              to signal slumber’s rest
          shadows encroach where light once reached

Athena’s owl ruffles her feathers for one last flight
          preens from quill to tip and one soft downy feather
          falls like a summer cloud
          rides the drafts and settles in the corner

In the silent moment before flight
          she takes one final glance
launches on soundless wings
          the warrior of the night.

We wake at morning’s first touch and
                               find the roost empty

Our hearts turn to sorrow and mourning
for wisdom’s presence is no longer amongst us
we run our fingers along the perch, the grooved indentations
of claws leave furrowed rows of knowledge

The wind reaches into the corner
                              lifts the single feather
the movement catches our eye; we reach down
                              hold the quill between thumb and forefinger
                              our extant memory
a reminder of wisdom’s presence,
                              her integrity and compassion
We are made the wiser because of her.

Diaspora

The wind asked,
“How now, spirit? Whither wander you?”
Wherever you may take me
But I will not be driven like the autumn leaves
Aimless, directionless, at your capricious mercy.
I will set my sails and use your strength
To take me to foreign lands.

The wind said,
“You have not moved.”
I have travelled the length and breadth
Of my imagination; my feet are not weary.
I will choose when to tie my laces
shoulder my pack and
Cross the threshold of my volition.

The wind asked,
“When will you find a home?”
I find a home where there is a bed for rest
a cup of tea
a book to read
a pen to write with
a nook for study
a place where my heart is at peace.

And the wind was silent.