Friday, July 2, 2010

Writing Without a Net

A wonderful thing happened to me in Egypt. I'd been struggling with my rough draft and a brain that had too much external noise to find the silence where it could meet my characters. I was feeling insecure with my writing. It was so shallow. I was a poser. I would never get under the skin of this novel to see the truth in anything.

Despite this, I decided I would read the first bit of the manuscript at the public reading at the end of the residency. It was not ready for public consumption, really, but I needed to give them something of the work they had paid for me to have the opportunity to write. So I printed it out on paper. The book is about a married woman who has a one night stand with a much younger man. She immediately regrets what she has done, more so because he will not leave her alone. He stalks her. At the beginning of the book, the place I chose to read, he has left a blue scarf at her gate, a present for her. The scarf is caught up in the hedge, blowing in the dry winter air.

When I wrote this I only wrote this for the image. I wanted the reader to feel the shock of this cerulean scarf in the browns of a winter landscape. Did her husband see it as he left for work? Was her secret out? It was a shallow surface kind of image. Writing I thought I'd been doing. That I'd been fighting with.

Then I printed it out and practiced for the reading and suddenly there was something else. the whole passage was a metaphor, she was caught. I didn't do this consciously. I let my brain free. I was writing without a net. I typed the words but I was not in complete control of them. I was recently helping another writer with her story. She's an established editor and I advised her to be more reckless, try not to control things. A hard task for an editor. It reminded me of this incident in Egypt.

What we've really written, what we meant, can't be seen straight away. We have no idea what we've done. It needs a bit of time and distance for us to discover exactly what happened when we recklessly let our brains do as they pleased.

So get rid of that net, and maybe the wire too. Time to float out there on air and see where it take us, it's usually quite wonderful.

8 comments:

Joyful said...

As you describe what you wrote, I can picture it. I always enjoy a book for which the words evoke images in my mind (I'm a reader not a writer ;-)). Great that you were able to write without a net. May you be able to do more of it.

Lauri said...

I'm still having a very busy brain with the office construction and everyone home from school. I'm looking forward to some quietness come August and that's when real writing without a net can take place.

Elspeth Antonelli said...

It's amazing what we can do without thinking, isn't it? I had the same experience with my one of my plots - I looked at it after the first draft and realized I'd written the whole thing with a theme - completely unconsciously! I took this as a good thing.

Sally said...

isn't it cool, how one part of your brain Knew that... your hands were moving and you were writing what you didn't know that you knew...If you had stopped and tried to "figue it out" it probably never would have come to the surface- you had to write it out of you
very intriguing

Helen Ginger said...

What a wonderful discovery you made. I love it when that happens (especially when it happens to me, but of course when it happens to others, too). It is like writing without filtering or thinking or criticizing. Or as you say, without a net.

Straight From Hel

Miriam Drori said...

The mentor of my writing group often sees things in my writing that I hadn't noticed. Or maybe I had, subconsciously....

Myne Whitman said...

I am very caught up in your imagery, I could just see it. I think writing without a net is the best way but sometimes I also find myself in your friend the editor's shoes. It's a conscious effort to let go.

Selma said...

You have confirmed what I have believed all along and that is that true writing comes from the soul. It flows like thought. We're not thinking about where to place metaphors and so on, we're just living the story. Wonderful.