Blogging offers a forum for musing about the craft of writing and the events that surround us in a very frustrating and yet exciting time, as we are faced with many issues similar to those of the 1960s: A government that lies to us, neo-colonial incursions into other countries, repression of ideas and serious threats to the well-being of the human race, while offering bread and circuses at home in the form of rampant materialism. A groundswell of protests against authority again reflect the response that was given by youth in the 1960s. Writing once again can explore those moods and present an alternative.
The writer needs to meter out drama and character-building details in a smooth, believable, organic trance. This has to be complicated, and it cannot be an easy project. But what could be better than to have fun doing it? That would be a measure of one’s competence and ones’s daring. And more, a measure of belief in one’s competence.
People having fun as they write made me suspicious when I first started teaching, thirty-some years ago. How can you get to the energetic depths, if having fun is the overall tone? It fits intuition that there must be some unpleasant struggle somewhere, just as in life.
But another writer dispelled this prejudice, saying for that writer, writing is play. “Play like what children do: totally encompassing play.” Where the writing becomes the entire world and the entire world is one’s playground. One can map a lot of struggle, I understand from this, over into the child’s playground, and it won’t seem painful. “Deep pleasure in the writing,” said another writer, who added that a lot of practice goes into the pleasure. Lining up the vast creative unconscious in a harmonious way with that small part of us that recognizes pleasure.
Do you know the Robert Frost quote? “No tears for the writer, no tears in the reader.” It might also be true: “No fun for the writer, no fun for the reader.”
(With help from Sandy Olsen, Deborah Janke, and Jeff Karon.)
We gave a new twist to a writing exercise at Art Camp in the Sierra. It grew out of a discussion the month before at Wilbur Hot Springs, in the seminar “Writing and Powerful Experience.” The question of what is powerful circled around core issues as the answer, around what’s at the center of one’s personal journey. Facing solitude? Touching some vast creative energy? The sorrow of heart’s desire? An ocean of truth all around us? Sex or love bonding?
Each person , for the first part of the exercise, picked a word, said it aloud, and we wrote it down. An intimate workshop of seven writers, we had seven words. Part two, we each wrote seven sentences, each sentence using one of the words. In our chairs next to Spanish Creek outside Quincy, over our heads the Jeffrey pines swaying in the sunlight, we might have written the purest lyricism.
So far, a familiar exercise. Sharon Doubiago has used this a number of times, and you could probably find it in a variety of writing texts. Part three was to write something, a story, poem, essay, or play, with one of the sentences as the opening.
We are trained to write the best piece we can, so automatically we look for material and style that gains the most approval. But our twist was to find the sentence that’s at the core of our journey. Or one that points to the core. The sentence we chose could be the first sentence of our piece, or the last sentence, or its content could be, or could suggest, our central issue.
Powerful experiences can be all light of course, but I suspect there’s generally another sense, of darkness or difficulty or frustration or foreboding, that is key. By making a core issue our subject, we turned the exercise 180 degrees. We reversed its direction. We aimed for darkness, chaos, trouble, flames, the unknown.
I’ve watched this emphasis produce marvelous pieces, many times, over the years I’ve been leading groups. The writers headed off for lunch, the forest, swimming, camp events, solitude in their tents, and at some point the pieces were written.
It’s not at issue whether we’ll hear good writing the next day, when we share our work. We should rather worry whether we’ll start a forest fire.
Stark sunlight angling in low
strikes a beautiful stone,
flecked with gold and rot brown.