It has been a while since I have not written a blog. November 2013 has been a very intense introspective month. First, I was finalizing some academic articles, which has not been that easy. On the one hand, you want to tick off all unfinished business. On the other hand, you want to start anew, in my case to start writing fiction. Moving from non-fiction to fiction is yet another transformation process, and this blog is all about transforming wor(l)ds, so even though it is quite early on in the process, I want to describe how the journey has been going so far.
I had mentioned in my previous blog that I have been taking a creative writing course. I have already completed the first session, and it has been very inspiring. It is always fun to learn new things and to meet new people. Yet for me, it has been a time to discover myself. With every exercise, I have been finding out how my academic baggage is helping me or holding me back as a writer.
As an academic, I knew I could write. Not only did I know I could write, but I knew I could write well as people enjoyed reading my work. This has always been the reviewer comment that I appreciated the most. More importantly, I had fun writing. Whereas some of my colleagues were suffering through the last months of finishing their PhD thesis, I loved those months. I had literally shut off myself at home. I was just writing and writing. I was so caught up at times that I did not drink or eat for hours. The words were flowing out of my hands – it was bliss.
This was a good beginning. However, before I ventured into writing fiction, I was wondering, well, where to start. I had some story ideas, but how does one start telling? Where does a story start and end? As an academic, I was used to structuring around the empirical findings. Yet now, I am totally free. I can make up stuff as long as it’s credible within the story. Wow, this is exciting!
A classic writer’s advice says, ‘Write what you know about.’ Sure, this helps. How else are you going to write about the real stuff, the sights and sounds? Imagining them, of course, is a very good alternative. In my case, it may even work better. I realize that as I start writing based on autobiographical elements, the academic in me wakes up and whispers in my ears to tell the truth, which of course, does not need to be the best story.
After all, the stories all originate somewhere. An academic rests on the shoulders of other giants and gives them credit by having thought about it before by referring to their work. A fiction writer is also inspired by the many authors and stories she has read, but not explicitly. As a result, these influences can freely amalgamate into her writing.
However, the literary influences are only a part of the story. Above all, the largest source is the one’s life, experiences, and memories. While going back down the memory lane, I have discovered the richness of all the people, places, and events that have entered my life. Of course, there is some contemplating and self-reflection going on here. Yet more of it is just feeling and intuition. For someone who has been trained to predominantly use her intellect for so many years, this is a huge challenge. It is rediscovering a source of knowledge you have been taught to ignore or to keep under control while working.
It is the mixture of these experiences and feelings that form the unique voice of the writer. Sure, academics have voices, too, some more than others. However, we have been trained to write from a distance, to mitigate our voices, mainly by using academic jargon and the passive voice. After all, it is not be about our personal thoughts. Academics report facts. And yes, this has been the aspect I have been struggling the most with – finding my narrative voice. During the course, we first started out with the first person point of view, where the character ‘I’ tells the story. Time and time again, I got the feedback that I was not revealing my ‘I’ enough. When I was talking about the other characters, I was doing all right, but I did not tell enough about ‘myself’, the narrator. My academic voice had become a reflex – it’s not about me; it is about the world around us. When we moved on to the third person point of view, I was relieved as I am used to telling about the world from an outsider’s point of view. I have to remember though that the easiest way is not always the best way.
For me, the biggest inspiration in this process has been Stephen King’s book, On Writing. It has encouraged me to not think too much. I just let it flow, let the story tell itself. I love finding out where the story takes me as I am writing. After all, this is the reason why I started writing fiction: to be free, to dream, to travel to new places, and to enjoy the ride. It’s magic!