Thursday, October 11, 2018

Let It Flow

Full disclosure: my children are watching Frozen in the background, so you should probably sing the title to this blog post if you're going for authenticity.

I've found myself giving a lot of writing advice in recent weeks.  I've neglected this blog as most of my free time as been taken up advising others on creative writing.  I've been working with high school seniors consistently since the beginning of August.  They're writing their college essays, and I'm amazed at how complicated it's gotten since I applied for college.  I recall writing my admissions essay on how inspired I was by my grandmother's trek on her tractor to rescue my baby cousin during a blizzard.  These days, most of my students are writing at least four essays, and the topics range from fascinating to absurd. 

I've also been working with my creative writing class and with a student who is working on a novel for her senior project.  I love this work because I get to experience different processes, inspirations, and abilities.  I, for one, have no gift for writing fantasy or science fiction, so when I encounter a student who is able to create a whole world in the stroke of a pen, I'm completely taken in.  I'm also astounded every day by the bravery of my students.  They often write about what they know, and they know far too much about the struggles we face in life.  Yet their ability to transfer experience and feelings to paper is remarkable.  When they begin, they're hesitant and afraid of their vulnerability, but they press on.  That's courage.

I am also working with a friend who has asked me to ghost write her memoir.  What an honor it is for someone to trust me with such a huge piece of who they are.  Her story is one of the movies, and one we need right now.  It's a story of racial integration, prejudice, innocence lost, painful revelation, and also, somehow, hope restored.  I am certain this story will not only sell like hot cakes, but that it will impact its readers at the deepest level of their souls.

With all of these writers, my repeated message is, "Just Write".  I've found that almost every one of them is suppressing their voice with worries about word count, structure, detail, perception, and point of view.  Every one of them has asked me, "Am I doing this the right way?"  The answer is always--yes.  When you've got a story brewing inside of you, you unleash it.  Let it tumble out of you, rush forth onto the page, flow like the roughest waters.  When you're telling your story, and often when you're telling someone else's story, don't allow yourself to question your purpose under the guise of "I don't think I'm doing this correctly" or "But I don't know where the story is supposed to begin."  Those are concerns for a later date.  My advice for beginning any writing project, especially one based on your life, is always the same: for now, just write.  Often you will find the central story somewhere amongst your words and your memories.  So just write and worry about the structural elements later.  Don't hold back.  Don't put it off because you've convinced yourself that you aren't a writer.

We're all storytellers.  And whether we tell those stories through the written word, with our voices, through a paintbrush, or through a camera lens, we create texts with our lives.  We need these texts to remind us of what it means to be human in all of its beautiful and terrifying complexity.  We need these texts, because we need stories.

We need stories now.  I call on you to share yours.