On Inspiration…and why everything truly is copy!

I never kept diaries as a kid, and even today, as a devout scribbler, I find that the most trying times are the ones that are difficult to write down, in that moment, anyway. So it often becomes a shorthand of blunt sentences, enough to revisit when the crisis is over. Enough to jolt the memory, or for inspirational purposes, to fire the imagination; representing the real, I like to call it!

There are people however, some who don’t even consider themselves to be writers, who do manage to record their experiences in intricate detail, however traumatic, putting pen to paper at every point of their journey, until coming out at the other side of it. Talking to a female acquaintance recently on a rather difficult experience she had gone through, she told me that she would not have remembered or been able to describe what happened to her so vividly, had she not been writing it down as she experienced it. It was important for her to remember; to have it recorded for the future.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

So wrote Anne Lamott. An accomplished writer, her non-fiction work is greatly influenced by her own struggles, her writing best described by the author herself;  “I try to write the books I would love to come upon, that are honest, concerned with real lives, human hearts, spiritual transformation, families, secrets, wonder, craziness—and that can make me laugh.” I posted Lamott’s quote on my Facebook page a while back, and a writer friend responded with another quote, from the late and great, Nora Ephron:

“Everything is copy.”

In the introduction to her novel, Heartburn (based on her personal experience of a marriage break-up) the wonderful Ephron elaborated further when she wrote of becoming the hero, rather than the victim of the joke. I am sure that many of us can identify with the sentiment? Not that I advocate dusting down tomes of snotty, tear-stained journals of youth and regurgitating a narrative of some exquisitely nostalgic pain-ridden experience. Nor indeed, some vengeful tale of ridicule to spite the target of your blame – though, it has to be said that all is fair in the land of fiction – so whatever floats your boat!

Recorded on paper or not, with distance, time-passing and maturity, and perhaps with a third-person narrative, stories of self can come to life in three-dimensional worlds that make meaning of experience, and hopefully generate empathy and connection with others. Removing the shield of author, and stripping away the mechanisms that hide the fragility of a human being alone, we know what we experienced, and we know how it felt. How we looked out at the world and the people in it, how we continue to do that. The difference between being a child as opposed to being an adult is that, as the former, we are powerless to our fate, and powerless to change anything. Becoming the latter enables empowerment to not only steer our own course, but more importantly, to change our ways of thinking, reacting and of just being. We can decide to be weak, or we can determine to be strong, and to analyse our past to the point of not wallowing in the soreness of it, but in recognizing how our experiences have shaped us – and perhaps, to step outside of it all, to write it out in a fictional world as we look back in; the spectator.

 Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. [Oscar Wilde]

For the writer’s inspiration, this is gold. For the writer’s soul, this is life.

 

Photograph is the copyright of Errol Farrell. 2017

On Writing: Quit looking at your feet!

I’ve been a librarian for over 16 years. I’ve read a lot of books. Some I love, some I just like, some I discard. I have a rule, you see, the ten page rule. If a book doesn’t grab me in those first vital pages, I’m out of there. Relationship over!!

I don’t read stuff because it’s popular, because everyone else is reading it. I pick up a book because it connects to me in some way, a manner that often, I can’t quite put my finger on. Put simply, the magic is in the writing, and I’m captivated.

And I’ve also read a lot of books on writing, and while some remain classic bibles and helpful tomes, I’ve learned to avoid the formulaic drones from the ‘experts’. You know them, the ones who tell us how to ‘DO IT’ but actually, ‘DO’ fuck all themselves. [Other than keep flogging the ‘how to’!]

Now and again, I discover a book that gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling, like I’ve made a new friend. A frisson of connection that makes me look forward to getting back there, spending more time there, all cosied up between the pages as sentence upon sentence layer up to enlighten and soothe my senses. Affirming what I know, what I feel, and articulating it in language that appeals to me; in language that matters to me.

Bird by bird, some instructions on writing and life by Anne Lamott is one such book. It’s funny, it’s helpful, it’s a kick in the arse and it is honest; probably the most important quality of all. As a self-confessed perfectionist, I balked, squirmed but ultimately laughed out loud at the following passage…

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and your shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” 

And then, there is this brilliant insight!

“The other voices are banshees and drunken monkeys. They are the voices of anxiety, judgement, doom, guilt. Also, there is hypochondria. There may be a Nurse Ratched-like listing of things that must be done right this moment: foods that must come out of the freezer, appointments that must be canceled or made, hairs that must be tweezed. But you hold an imaginary gun to your head and make yourself stay at the desk. There is a vague pain at the base of your neck. It crosses your mind that you may have meningitis. Then the phone rings and you look up at the ceiling with fury, summon every ounce of noblesse oblige, and answer the call politely, with maybe just the merest hint of irritation. The caller asks if you’re working, and you say yeah, because you are.”

Bird by bird

Whether you are just starting out, or like me, have been scribbling away for years, you are bound to get something meaningful from this book. So do yourself a favour – don’t pass it by, and of course,  it will be all the easier to spot if you quit looking at your feet!

Bird by Bird : some instructions on writing and life / Anne Lamott. Anchor Books. A division of Random House, Inc. New York. 1995