Monday, September 13, 2010

Encounters in Story

Labour Day weekend I sat down and finally put Changing Tides together, crossing an emotional threshold I didn't know about in the process. Saturday I tripped down to the local coffee shop, opened my laptop and painstakingly began again and again. I stared off into space, watched people come and go, tapped the counter with my fingers, stretched and finished one page of a new beginning that lacked any form of pulse; it stared at me in solid 2 dimensional starkness. Sunday I pondered, paced and thought about what was missing and why I couldn't seem to sink into the story.

I felt blind. I knew the story. I knew the outcome. It wasn't like I was writing something from nothing and yet, I couldn't find my way through the doorway into the story. In fact, I couldn't even find the door and looking through windows at the bits and pieces I needed to incorporate was not helping. I needed the key and I soon became convinced if I could just get the "hook," the right opening sentence, it would draw me into the piece. But what could I possibly say that would do everything I needed to do, I thought while the vastness of the story clogged my mind with events, setting and emotion all vying for a chance to be heard. I got it Sunday night; my first sentence, "picking up the path of my father's life, figuring out why he left and what that had to do with me was like picking up pieces of glass on the shore; each one had it's own story." I was in.

Monday morning I trotted back to the café, settled myself down and typed for 8 hours, went home, printed the draft and couldn't look at it. I felt as raw as a piece of flesh churned through a meat grinder. What had I been thinking? I'd taken a fictitious story set in a place I'd never really been with imagined characters and infused the narrator with emotions that belonged solely in the depth of my soul. The same emotions I'd suffered with and worked through in the darkest part of my life - what was I thinking? How could this possibly turn out any good? I couldn't bear to read it. What if, instead of writing a piece that was pure genius (as I had a good idea in my head of what I wanted and how it could be accomplished) it was instead a pile of pitiful trash?

My intent had been to look it over and make changes the next day... two days later it still sat, face down on the ironing board in the kitchen while I contemplated the Word of the Day, Threshold. I began thinking about all the thresholds I'd past through in the past few months. Every little discovery I'd made and every goal I'd achieved; the ability to integrate setting into plot and emotion, practice setting up and delivering scenes and the ability evoking an emotional response in the reader. I realized I constantly look ahead and challenge myself with new ideas opening doorways of possibility that expand my thinking and the directions my writing can move. And although I always know where I want to go with my writing and what I want to achieve sometimes the way requires experimenting with a roughly drawn blue print based on past experiences and glimpses around corners. It's to be expected then that things may not to turn out precisely as planned on the first run.

Today I was able to pick up the story again and read it with perspective. I can see the weak spots and the flaws and I acknowledge there are some major and minor changes I need to make in order to achieve the finished product I'd envisioned. However, I'm very happy it's no where near garbage. Instead the frame work of my intent is present. A softly outlined ghost, waiting to be shifted slightly, pulled closer to the surface and carefully fleshed out a into what it was born to be.

And so the use of "threshold" in my writing this past week was not something in a story, nor did it wind up as a writing exercise. Instead, it was a reflection on my experience, the relationship I have with my writing and the realization that despite this new threshold I've just crossed there will always be more doorways to traverse and things to learn as I push my writing ability forward, stretching the limits of my word use, composition and broadening the expanse of my end desires.

Photos taken of Dredge No.4 in Dawson City, Yukon. Summer 2008. 


  1. Mmmmh, I love the first picture, with the staircase and door only, it´s just the right mixture of invitingly ancient and creepy for a hidden threshold!

    And I´m happy and moved and honoured what great use you made of my word suggestion. Honestly, I think no whatsoever use within a story could have been better than what you did.

    This kind of process is what makes the different drafts of a story so unmessurably precious in the end - unnoticed by any reader - , isn´t it?
    I admire your courage to post in such an authentic way!

  2. Good morning Heathbird. Thanks so much for your lovely comments and encouragement :)

    Yes, I love the first picture too. I actually wanted to use a picture I have of an intricately carved old fashioned wooden door (the kind that rise to a point in the middle) set in a stone wall. I took it from a moving bus when we travelled through Toronto in 2008, but I couldn't get it to flip right side up to upload it.

    I love being able to look back over the different drafts and see how the story has changed and the layers developed. And although the reader never sees this I think it would have been invaluable if I could have had the opportunity to read several drafts when I took creative writing courses at the college, but alas, it is not something that appears to be taught anywhere.