While looking back over the original LegendFire discussion thread in preparation for May’s post, I realized that a point got lost in the shuffle – a point Scintilla wanted to discuss. I’ve strung together bits from her follow-up and initial posts that highlight this glossed over detail.
I more meant to discuss consciously using our personal lives in our writing… I’ve often felt like I “should” write something that consciously expresses the feelings I have at the time, but in practice, I don’t think I ever have, except a little bit as a teenager, badly. Maybe I’ve figured out some level that it’s not that easy to go directly from how I feel to a decent piece of writing.
“Consciously” is the word that stands out to me, so that’s what I want to focus on in this post.
Scintilla’s comments reminded me of a scene from the TV series Once Upon a Time. (Second season, I believe. Please don’t quote me on that.) Emma is standing in Mr. Gold’s office, attempting to cast magic for the first time. Emma closes her eyes and begins to concentrate, but Gold suddenly shouts at her, “Stop thinking!” He goes on to explain how casting magic isn’t something one does rationally. If the spell is going to work, Emma needs to let go, trust her intuition, and simply do it.
I’ve come to view writing (and creating art in general) in the same way. Making honest art can’t be a (wholly) conscious process, or at the very least, it shouldn’t. Alatariel, one of the original contributors, hinted at this idea (perhaps unintentionally) in her response to Scintilla:
For our works of fiction… I find that certain themes find their way in without planning sometimes and that’s due to my personal world-views and experiences.
If distance is one key to using emotions and personal experiences in your writing, the second key is to trust your imagination. Trust that it will provide you with raw material, combining elements from your life, borrowed from other stories, and unconscious symbols in delicious forms and proportions. Whatever vision we are chasing, we need to let our imaginations guide us instead of trying to control it the whole time. This also means trusting its sense of direction. It will get your story from point A to point B, even if that means going south to head north.
To summarize my stance in a single pithy statement: Before you can express yourself, you must first trust yourself. Believe me. The latter is far easier said than done.
Let’s conclude by returning to Scintilla’s question about “consciously using our personal lives in our writing.” My answer is simple: don’t. It can’t be a conscious decision. You must wait until your imagination is ready to use it, and trust that it knows best how and where to use it.
If you still feel compelled to write about your experiences, you need to accept that you’re writing memoir, not fiction. Memoir is a completely different beast. I don’t write memoir, so I’m the wrong girl to ask about how to start down that road.
I’ve spent most of this year talking about imagination and the unconscious, haven’t I? More high-minded stuff than I usually talk about on the blog. Don’t worry. I’ve got some more down-to-earth posts in the works. In the meantime, if this post has sparked any new thoughts, feel free to share down in the comments.