“I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behoves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work.”
Stephen King; On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Today I am writing about writing … and how, as time has passed, writing has become an integral part of the expression, not just of loss, but of my life generally.
I like the fact that this blog is evolving into something more rounded than ‘just’ a journal of grief. I hope my readers agree.
There was a time during my creation of “Into the Mourning Light” – in 2010 – when I fell prey to a severe case of writer’s block. I felt as though my creativity had deserted me, which was very concerning. I couldn’t write a word and I felt discouraged and disheartened.
For my birthday that year, Shaun paid for me to attend a ten week adult education course in creative writing called “Writing from Experience”. It was with great trepidation that I turned up to the first class, having no idea what to expect. My classmates were, in the main, attendees who had been coming to the class for some years and whose writing skills were well-honed through the learning process and practising the craft.
I soon learned that the core of longstanding class members provided a supportive and informed group to hold the writing hands of newcomers like myself.
During that first term (of many – we still meet informally) I learned a huge amount about different aspects of writing. The syllabus for each term covered aspects of writing such as:
- ‘show don’t tell’
- the five senses.
I was particularly struck by our tutor Jane’s comment in the first class:
“If you are writing autobiographically, the use of fictional techniques to produce a readable story can really help”.
It had not occurred to me that my grief book could be written like a story, but once I began to grasp the principles, I learned that fictional techniques enliven factual text to produce something much more readable. Simply including a small amount of dialogue enlivens text and breaks up swathes of narrative that without it, can become tedious.
Each week Jane set us a task and the following week (horror of horrors!) we had to read out our efforts for the class to discuss and gently critique.
I cannot tell you how nerve-wracking this was to start with!
My bête noir in writing terms remains the fictional short story. I have tried many times to produce a convincing tale with a beginning, middle and end in 850 words but success remains elusive.
However, not only did my efforts to write fiction provide important lessons in confidence in writing, but also in developing my individual writing ‘voice’. Reading out one’s own work to a group of people, in a safe and friendly environment, is an excellent aid to confidence in addressing an audience.
I find it interesting how writing comes to life when it is read out. It is so different to reading silently on the page.
These days when I draft a piece, I sometimes read it out to see how it sounds. I have even recorded my writing onto my phone and listened back to it.
Yes, I am tired of the sound of my own voice!
Through Jane’s classes I began learn the nuances in the skill of writing to hold readers’ interest.
I learned the subtleties of “show, don’t tell” – particularly useful when drawing a scene and encouraging the reader to use their imagination to visualise it.
Tell: The room was cold and damp
Show: The room had a chill to it which owed much to the condensation on the walls and a sense that some ancient water course might run underneath the very floor.
Thus I began to build and create my own writing toolbox.
Now I have two toolboxes at my disposal: one for my grief and one for my writing.
Stephen King’s book is a particularly useful work for the aspiring writer.
“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away”.
How I have blessed the day that Shaun thought to send me on the course! It didn’t just equip me to complete writing of “Into the Mourning Light” with considerably more expertise than I would otherwise have possessed.
The skills I developed at writing group also contributed to my being able to speak in public about my loss to CRUSE and the RNLI and ultimately to co-present bereavement workshops at Harry Edwards Healing Sanctuary.
The simple act of joining what I anticipated would be a one-off class has proved to be a very useful tool in far more ways than I could have imagined.
Stepping into the unknown really can bring unpredictably positive rewards.