How Creative Writing Teaches Me To Step In New Directions.
Our days can be same-old, same-old. It’s easy to fall into a comfortable routine. We get up, shower, have coffee, drive to work, do our job, come home.
One day we get in the car, go for a drive and see where it takes us. We call someone we haven’t spoken to in years. We eat, drink — do everything — using our non-dominant hand.
Creative writing can also, as a process, be somewhat routine. We roll an idea onto paper, do research about the setting of the story and develop it. We coax our word family to be upstanding members of sentences and paragraphs, and call it a day.
But, is there another way?
Sometime after the initial throw-down of words, for me at least, there’s a pause. Often a fairly long one. There is breathing room, a fresh start sort of thing.
After the pause, one choice is to edit what was written — to keep the approach, the content, the ending — and simply fix punctuation and grammar. Perhaps adjust the order of paragraphs, the clarity of a sentence, and so on.
I’ve done that plenty of times. That’s a normal, everyday version of the creative writing process.
There are other times, though, when there’s a nudge of a different kind which can change the trajectory of a piece and the life of the writer simultaneously. This is the get-in-your-car-and-see-where-it-takes-you version.
This is a nudge which asks me to evolve personally — along with the writing. It’s mind-blowingly magical, really, and this is my favorite aspect of creative writing — and life.
What’s It Like To Write This Way?
This take-a-pause approach to writing and editing involves quality of attention, an open-ended-open-minded-open-hearted gaze at something I’ve written.
In a movie, it would be the difference between a casual, friendly glance between lovers in conversation vs. the long pause while looking into each other’s eyes.
In the long, leisurely pause, the lovers are open to listening to the wind, to hearing what is wanting to be said. There’s open silence, listening, contemplation. From here, their conversation can go anywhere, since hearts are listening more than minds.
Let’s say I write something and let it sit.
At some point in the future — an hour, day or months later — if I go back and read it with fresh eyes, with curiosity, with those look-deeply-into-your-eyes eyes (like in the movies), this is wildly different than returning to a piece of writing in order to reinforce it, to add proof to what’s already written, to nail the point.
The following is a link to Alyse Bensel reading her poem “Reproductive Theory” (just over one minute) and it is a poem which asks you to sit in straight-line thinking. It develops but doesn’t evolve. It states a point of view, gives evidence for that point of view, and it stays the course. It tells you how things will turn out, given the line of thinking.
Here’s a contrasting approach, the ear-to-the-ground-and-let’s-see-where-this-goes approach. This poem by Mary Oliver develops — and also offers an invitation to evolve. She takes us by the hand and sets the stage by showing us straight line thinking, both the normalcy and the absurdity of it, and at the end, she invites us to go with her in an entirely different direction.
by Mary Oliver
I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
I enjoy when life evolves. I enjoy when writing is more than writing, when it’s an exercise in becoming.
Writing Well, Living Well.
To me, life is more fun if it’s an evolving poem. Let’s say after a difficult conversation with a friend, we let our words and thoughts sit for a day. When we meet again, with the intention of seeing ourselves and our relationship with each other with fresh eyes, how this changes things!
What if I listen today to my partner, my grandchild, my co-worker with shiny new ears? An open mind? A devoted heart? Maybe it’s a bit like using my non-dominant hand.
Tell Me A Story About This.
A couple breaks up. They agree to go their separate ways. He dates immediately, she doesn’t. He sleeps with someone else. She doesn’t. After a time, the couple reunites. She learns that he slept with someone else and can’t get it out of her mind.
Today when they speak to each other, instead of being present with him, she’s worried. She’s over-the-top afraid about what he’s doing now and how it will affect her. Will he text the woman he was with during their separation? Will he meet with her again or be tempted to return to her bed? The negative possibilities haunt her.
She can develop the old story, with all the old details, and live out her story of straight-line thinking. She’ll be right about things, and she’ll be miserable.
We, the readers, know she’s on pins and needles. We know he’s on probation and his girlfriend is the supervising officer. It probably won’t be a happy ending, so why bother with the rest of the story? Is it worth our time? More importantly, is it worth hers?
It’s practically impossible to live life well when we’re stuck in the mud with what’s already done or said. Similarly, a writer is unlikely to add new and exciting elements to a story with shackles hanging from the pen, if the writer is too loyal to what’s already written.
Notice your actions and conversations today. What’s there? Are you clinging tightly to an old way of reasoning or thinking? If you are, can you take a pause and look with new eyes? Are you up for stepping in a new direction?
Writing asks me to be a new person every single day. A relationship with someone you love or care about can do that, too.