Sunday, June 30, 2013

Writing is not an even process...

Well, that declaration is nothing new. I have struggled with a regular writing schedule for a month now. That's nothing new either. It has to do with writers needing to do something else to make a living... which is just sad. I mean, there are the lucky few, but most of us struggle along trying to do creative writing at the edges of all the things we need to do to pay our bills, right?

There are many unkind realities of the U.S. culture, and this is one of them.

Okay, but the other thing is getting to this point in the book-writing where I had to clarify for myself once again what this really is. I think I let too much come in from outside to steer me off course at times.

Part of this is my own difficulty in naming the genre (why does this culture so insist on putting things in easy-to-relate-to boxes?). I keep calling it my more-than-memoir, but the use of that genre word has tended to have others put the book in a genre-box, or for my critique group to sometimes expect something from it that was not my real intention.

Part of this story is about my mother and me.
So now I need to go back to some of the revisions and revise them, or even eliminate them. What I have needed to do after the first set of major revisions is to go back to the original intent and begin to take out what was added that blurred that intent, or distracted from it. And that thought makes me tired... I'm sure this is not unusual either, the resistance to going over and over again the parts of the story that have been sometimes painful and emotionally difficult to write. You think you get distance after a while. No, actually, you just keep getting immersion in it all over again.

And then I have to figure out what to really call this. I won't call it memoir anymore, even though there are elements of that approach. I am opening a story here, a personal account, but not memoir in the sense that this is about "me." It is not about me except as the narrator of the multi-generational account, the lens through which it is viewed, and then how my life intersected and interacted with that account. That lens, and the view of my life within the story, shifted many times during the writing, often in moments of stunning clarity.
Old mine shaft, Calumet MI

Creative writing sometimes feels like this great mystery. It's not as simple as having an idea and then writing that. Once you begin the writing, you lose a certain control over that idea. If you start to dig in and explore, new doors open, new lenses, discoveries are made, things you couldn't possibly anticipate. There are these "ah ha!" moments, or "OMG I never saw that before" moments, moments of insight that come to you rather than you to them.

Many times I felt that the ghosts of my ancestors and the spirits of my parents were wanting to say something through me, as if they had been lying in wait for someone to come and pay some attention, that they came to me, rather than I to them. It was as if there was something they had long wanted to say that they were never able to say when alive, something they wanted me to see, to know, to finally understand and set down in print. As I write in the book, "I am inhabited by ghosts" now. It's sort of an amazing process.
Some of those ghosts - my Croatian grandparents

Not an even process, no, sometimes tumultuous, full of the unexpected.  Sometimes the revelations needed many days and long walks to hear and process, to roll around and allow to shake up the territory and then reshape it. You wonder how many long-repressed, long-buried stories, seethe under the surface of our lives after a process like this. They shape us - the stories, and the repression of the stories.

And we have a whole lot of repressed stories lying under the surfaces of this culture - and that repression has shaped us as much or more than the stories themselves.

Yet, despite the uneven process and the inner and outer tumult, the writing itself certainly demands a discipline, a voice, if you will, that is steady and confident. That's the responsibility of the writer. That's the one aspect of this that needs the steady hand and heart - it needs to be written well. For that to be true, I needed a lot of time for that quiet seething to surface, for those voices to be heard, for their stories to emerge in the space I made for them, and then the "seeing."

So, here I go again, starting at the beginning, once more shaping this into what it is meant to be. A lot of it is there, needing little change (thank god!), some truly amazing and deeply moving stuff. Now I remove what distracted. I refocus it and let it become what it was always meant to be.

Margaret Swedish (including all photos)

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