Thursday, March 27, 2008

Writing from the Heart

I haven't written from the heart for so long I have forgotten how. Much of my writing in the beginning was automatic, was characters interacting, taking action, talking, fighting, evolving... but that all changed the day I realised I couldn't write proper like what real writers do, and over the recent years I've yearned and pursued a better way of life - resolute description that is fresh and new.

Alas, I have come unstuck. What I've been concentrating on has been the editing, the second stage after the initial draft in finished, and yet that has been before or while I have been writing the first draft. I type away for a paragraph and then go back and edit, re-edit, re-edit ad infinitum until I think I like it (for the night). I never move on and though the descriptions have (recently) become blessedly punchier I'd not realised my mistake - I've been writing from the ego.
If you're coming from you ego when you write, you're missing the magic and music that appears from your deeper self. By being willing to reach down into your unconsciousness, you'll give your fictional characters greater dimension, complexities, and human qualities (warts and all).
... says Rachel Ballon (author of Breathing life into your characters).

This is important for more than simply the reason of character (though that is primarily why I have submitted to picking up a book on how to write - I must do this more often). The first exercise in the book takes the reader/writer down memory lane and asks that you write for 15 minute with feeling on a moment in your life when you experienced great emotion. Feel it and write it... simple! And powerful, since what I wrote is in the moment - it may not be spectacularly written (I haven't greatly edited it or poured time in perfecting) - is filled with so much stuff that writing with the ego does not generate:
They befriended us first with pats on the back and smiles and group in-joking. We already felt on edge since these older boys were just that: older. We were still fairly young, on the cusp of moving from primary to secondary school. In comparison these boys were much broader, far taller, even than me.

We had ridden our bikes down to Millpond for a laugh during the holidays, just to go that far and take in the lake, free of adults. Now, with the group of 3, or was it 4, lads closing in around us, we knew we were out of our depth.

The questions are easy at first: non-threatening and no reason to expect the unexpected. It didn't take them long to lead us off the path and drag us, bikes as well, into the bushes. Thick and green looking from the outside, they'd seemed impenetrable, but once inside amongst the twisted trunks and roots it was big enough for them to hold us and the bikes and keep us surrounded. We were so close to the path and yet too far from help. We'd seen no one else on our travels.

That's when the fear kicks in. The two of us, on our own, far smaller and outnumbered. What did they want?

We couldn't just run and leave them with the bikes. What would our parents say? Were the bikes what they wanted?

One of them was speaking: threatening words that I can't now remember, but we'd look at each other, panicky, feeling their heavy hands on our shoulders, wrapped about the crossbars of our bikes.

Be quiet!

What did they want? What would they do to us?

We lied right from the off, pretending to be cousins. One lived in the town, the other had come with his parents for the day. There were adults waiting for us. There was no reason for the lads to believe otherwise. We were family members, not just friends. If only we'd said they knew where we were and were coming to pick us up!

I was crying. My friend, silent. Pensive, of course, but stoic. He always was. Stronger in body and mind despite being shorter than me. Brave like dynamite. I've never been so. I have too many fears.

I cried quietly, so afraid of being beaten up, or worse. What could they do? What did they want with us? I told them I suffered from migraines, pleading that it was a serious one. It could only get worse and I had to go home... be gone. It hurt so bad. We had to go so that I could take my medication. Our family would be waiting.

They were understanding. Their threats and strict faces were so understanding and let they let me go. They turned my bike around for me and passed me out through the wall of green. I was back on the path, making my way back the way I had cycled in, back to freedom. I was shaking and balling. My face was hot and red, my cheeks soaked. And as I walked away up the path I trembled and realised what I had done.

I had betrayed my friend to them. I had left him behind with thoughts of myself.

I had forsaken him in their clutches, alone, to do with as they pleased. A knot that had sat in my stomach double-knotted itself as I looked on myself and my cowardice and kept on walking. What had I done? Surely we'd been safer together? What had I done? I kept on walking.

He came screaming past me. His hand was clutched to his ear and he was cursing and crying. He went tearing away from me in tears, yelling that they'd hit him. I saw that he had left his bike behind, that they had stolen it and paid him with a punch.

I threw down my bike at that thought. I swept away the cowardice, my fear for my own safety and with him gone into the distance, I turned around. I lurched into life and charged back into the bushes, fleeing from my cravenness. I had betrayed my best friend and let them hurt him.

I ran screaming into the bushes, cussing and throwing my fists. I gave no thought to myself. He had taken a punch for me and his bike was forfeit. That wasn't right. I charged into their lair to lay waste to them or take my share - whatever it took.

But they were gone.

I pushed both bikes along the path, followed only by my shame. Eventually I found my friend on a bench. He'd failed to find help. We were still alone. We never saw those boys again and in time our friendship passed away also, though the shame lives on.
Hopefully you can see that 15 minutes of writing without thought to place, character names, or fear of failure, evokes a far stronger piece of writing than anything I have produced recently. Perhaps I had better go back to writing my first drafts and then tying them up afterwards?!

It is certainly possible that we can write from the ego and create something beautiful, but, I am beginning to believe that in order to write more broadly, more freely, and with the possibility of calling on a wider vocabulary (or making the writing appear more verbally, the way great writers can move between subjects, subplots, descriptions and back again) free writing is the way I must go.


esruel said...

I can see what you mean about writing without the 'edit' restriction from the outset, then editing afterwards. I've done that many times. It is a very good method - my latest has been written with more than one pass in a lot of places. If it suits your own style, then by all means use it.
However, I do feel it is just one method, and not the only method. Some people can write fluently and it's not at all detrimental - to the contrary: further editing becomes minimal when carried out properly.
Just one thing would bother me: that you shouldn't show people what you've written in this rough stage. Perhaps your secured agent or editor would appreciate it, but I wouldn't advise submitting it to anyone else. Only the final edit.

R1X said...

No, I agree there, Es. But of late I can't help but edit as I write, an I think now's the time to cut back and just write and stop being so critical of what is coming out until I'm ready to go back and edit.

Now then, does this stage sit before beating out the scene or after?

esruel said...

I wouldn't worry, Rich. Just write as you are doing, edit, and check what you feel should be there. Create a method that suits you, pick and choose from others what suits you. Just help yourself and be yourself. You're doing fine, right now. Why worry further about more stuff and give worry an opportunity to get in the way?