Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Finding The Heartbeat or The Rescue of a Stranded Story

Saturday morning I sit at the local café reading the newest edition of the Writer. This act is a precursor to beginning work on the story at hand just as this post is a warm up for my other writing. In both cases the story is Changing Tides. I know I have mentioned this story in older posts and it's one which I've been easing myself back into. However, I'm now up against the do or die deadline. This is the story I'm going to work on in Newfoundland when I attend Piper's Frith and I have to put it back together before I go because in it's current million and one, okay I exaggerate, pieces it would never survive the trip in any recognizable state.

I first wrote Changing Tides in the fall of 2005. In 2008 I painstakingly revised it, polishing the flow in an attempt to prepare it for a reading. That's when I realized it was missing... something. It was mostly a very well painted backdrop strung on a beautiful island of prose. Masked somewhere behind the conscious words I'd thoughtfully written was the rest of the story, for which I would need to search my subconscious. So, with a setting rich enough to taste, crafted with gorgeous scenic descriptions (which I loved!) setting both tone and mood with perfect clarity - the story nevertheless lay stranded in limbo, lacking a strong enough plot to carry it off.  Until now...

As I read through the 5 new beginnings I've made since then, I make notes and questions to help me bare the meat, to locate the life line - the missing connections to something. To what? As the flesh begins to emerge I'm startled when the missing "details" suddenly show themselves unexpectedly and I begin to see how it fits and why it was so hard to include; how emotionally charged it makes me feel - how deep the connection is - it scares me and excites me at the same time. It's not that I haven't discovered the emotional connection to a story before, but it's never been this strong or quite like this. And I realize this is what Jenny Rough was talking about in her article, "The Essayist finds her stride," in Septembers issues of the Writer, when she describes sculling. She uses her her experience in learning to scull to explain how she uncovers the missing pieces in her writing - the emotional connection, that something that makes the writing work and brings it alive.

The more I continue to delve into the missing pieces of Changing Tides the clearer  this reveal becomes and I'm startled to discover the backdrop colours, moods and highlights are all in the right spots to reflect and display them to the best advantage - like a stage set built to order, waiting for the main attraction. An event I now acknowledge I could not have written in 2005 or 2008 because it contains aspects of my life I had not yet allowed myself to see. Things and feelings I was not ready to face at that time. Perhaps one could argue that the piece would not be the same as it is now had I finished it 2 years ago, but I believe differently. I believe it was always meant to be what it is now and I'm awed by the genius way it all fits together.

This revision will still be difficult, but I know from experience it's often the most difficult things which are the most rewarding and I am eager to begin work on it. However, in retrospect I wonder if, just as this unwillingness or inability to reveal certain aspects of myself stopped me from being able to write the crux of this story 2 years ago, perhaps it's the same thing that's also at the root of the writer's block some people experience.


  1. Thanks for an interesting, thoughtful post. Your final statement will cause me to reflect upon my own writing, the concept of writer's block being an unwillingness or inability to face certain aspects of the self. I also enjoyed reading about your revision process with this story. I'd be intrigued to read the original versions and the story it becomes. I always keep my original drafts, and like you, it is sometimes amazing how whole new sections are inserted, or pieces are removed, or the inclusion or removal or substitution of a couple of words or a phrase or a paragraph can make a huge difference in the final shape and impact of a story.

  2. Hi Leonie, This is a pertinent quote I came across recently that you might enjoy:

    "Writing is an act of hope. It means carving order out of chaos, of challenging one’s own beliefs and assumptions, of facing the world with eyes and heart wide open. Through writing we declare a personal identity amid faceless anonymity. We find purpose and beauty and meaning even when the rational mind argues that none of these exist. Writing therefore, is also an act of courage. How much easier is it to lead an unexamined life than to confront yourself on the page?"

    Jack Heffron (from “The Writer’s Idea Book”)

    I've never read the book, but I like the quote.

  3. Thanks Annie :) Yes, it's nice to go through old drafts and to see how my stories progress. I'm not sure why I keep them all, but I think it's the security of knowing I can go back if I don't like the new version. I can never rewrite anything exactly the same as it was and I find sometimes when I explore I find I like an idea or way of phrasing things from an earlier draft better and then I can go back and use it. I would consider sharing the earlier and final drafts with you at a later date, once I'm done with all my revisions if you wanted.

    What an amazing quote and so totally relevant to what I'm encountering... it contains some intriguing ideas. The ideas of why we write I find especially fascinating. I've never heard of Jack Heffron. I'll have to look him up.

  4. Annie, thank you for this wonderful quotation! It is like written straight from my own heart and conviction.