Friday, December 30, 2011

Writing and Peace

On the one hand, I think writing can often help us find peace. On the other hand, I think peace can be too much of a good thing.

It's true that being a writer can help us get perspective on our own lives. Don't get me wrong: I'm just as apt to get caught up in my own little psychodramas as the next person. But, I think that understanding how narrative functions means that I can, usually, eventually, claw my way to some sort of understanding that whatever I'm going through can be narrated in different ways. Therefore, I can come with a more functional, healthy narration. We all do that already, when we say things like, "It wasn't meant to be," or "I can do better." Writers just have bigger, fleshier versions of these self-narrated outcomes to help us cope.

But as any of you who follow super dramatic writers on Twitter probably know already, we don't often use our powers for good. Because, on the other hand, too much peace in writer's life is never a good thing.

The fact is that many of us, though not all, mine our personal lives for nuggets of narrative gold. And that means that we're oftentimes looking for a reach new source of dramatic ore. Indeed, the scenes I'm most happy with in my writing are usually scenes that pick up an emotional frisson from my own experience. It'll be completely distorted in terms of actual events, but I've injected a totally fabricated scene with a grain of emotional essence that, at least to me, is real. And I think this injection of experiential truth helps makes such scenes real to my readers.

Meanwhile, this process becomes, in itself, a weirdly curative act. First of all, when I experience something negative (or positive, for that matter) I'm able to get some good distance by inevitably thinking, "Wow, this will be great to write." And then comes the second part of the equation, the writing, in which I'm usually able to exorcise, or at least spank about a bit, some of my demons. Even better is when I can indulge in a good memory, or a good experience, and get to the center of why it made me happy, or a better person.

Peace, I've discovered, has never been something I've particularly admired or for which I've strived. Instead, I've always taken a Faustian view of things--that there's something to be said for wanting, and working, and dreaming, and fidgeting. It means we make mistakes, but at least we're alive.

Our struggles, then, give us something to write about and for others to read. Our demons are our friends, and peace something to be kept at arm's length, for fear it might dull our perceptions.


Juliet Blackwell said...

Yes! I'm with you wholeheartedly on this. One of my favorite quotes about creativity is from Martha Graham, who writes about the "queer dissatisfaction" all artists feel about their work, and how it keeps edging us on to do more. I get a sense of peace when I hit "send" on a manuscript, and it lasts all of 10 seconds before I'm on to the next thing. Clearly I'm in this business for other reasons altogether!

Sophie Littlefield said...

I must agree that the times of *personal* peace in my life have not been among my most creative. When I've been tested, tossed, tormented - that's when the stories flow. And, not incidentally, it's when I have the most growth...

L.G.C. Smith said...

Yeah, this is kind of the bitch about writing. No conflict never works. At any level. Yet I still strive for it personally, even knowing that's flat out obtuse. And I still want to protect my characters from it. Idiocy. I can't give up wanting all of us to strive for non-violence, but that's not quite the same thing as peace.

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