Sunday, September 8, 2013

Points of Origin

Having just put aside a novel draft, I'm taking a "break" and reworking some creative non-fiction essays.  Perhaps it is this endeavor that made me so attuned to the radio commentary I heard this morning, the excellent broadcast of "On Being" that featured Nadia Bolz-Weber.  (Here's the interview if you want to listen.)

Among the many great comments (on many great subjects) made, this one stood out to me (here in paraphrase): I write from scars and not wounds.  In other words, when trying to get down on paper something that is authentic, something that caused trauma, it is important to leave enough space and time to get to a place where the writing can be done productively (and without generating more injury).

A few years back, I was lucky enough to take a creative non-fiction workshop with Connie May Fowler and Sue William Silverman.  Connie's mantra (echoed and augmented by Sue) was: Write from the hurt place.

I like the combination of these two pieces of advice.  To Connie's point, you do have to write from the place where the hurt occurred (and perhaps where it still resonates).  But to Bolz-Weber's claim: there is no merit (and possibly some danger) to writing to a hurt that hasn't healed.

The language here might sound extreme.  And I wouldn't want to suggest that creative non-fiction writing is all about trauma.  In fact, the broader concept of these maxims is about perspective.  You have to have the proper distance (scar) and you have to have the proper mindset (hurt).  The second point might be more twitchy... it isn't about pain, but about emotional truth.  You have to have something to say - some feeling to evoke and you have to be willing to reside in that feeling. (That is, things don't just happen.  A piece of writing/story/essay/memoir/etc. isn't just a string of events.)

Both of these pieces of advice apply equally, I think, to fiction as to creative non-fiction.  I would call them the values of reflection (scar) and resonance (hurt). For me, at this moment and stage of composition, I found these to be words of wisdom, a reminder not to rush into a piece and not to overlook the important of an emotional center.

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