Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Creativity: Using your own experiences to authenticate your writing

 My last post was about brainstorming with my writer pal Marcy on a novel idea involving dementia and Alzheimer's.  Much of what is going into the book is based on my experience with my mother and my father-in-law who are both suffering from this kind of memory loss.  Every phone call I have with them or chat with my mother-in-law or my sister, who also keeps contact with our mom, is a source of inspiration and information. But it is also disheartening because it will only get worse.

I tell myself that as painful as it is to watch and keep up with the changes they are going through, it is part of life, part of loving someone and part of the truth that must be in what I write. What we experience is our greatest source of originality and authenticity.

I know this book is going to tax me and pull hard at my heart, for every wall my character must climb will echo a difficulty my mother is going through. I have long since given up having those chats with my mom that always left us laughing. For many years I would unload my disappointments through the receiver of my phone, and my mother would be on the other end listening.  But it was never a sad event for I would find myself giggling over those troubles because she brought that out in me.  They were fodder for humor instead of tears or anger when I shared them with her.

But I cannot do that any more. She cannot hold onto the same conversation for more than a couple of minutes. Sometimes she thinks she is talking to my daughter or worse me back when I was in high school.  It is much harder to make her giggle and much harder for me to find the humor in the troubles that come with the changes she is going through.  Nowadays, she is sharing with me her difficulties, and I am the one hoping to bring humor rather than sorrow to her experience.

What life experiences feed your writing and give you hope that you will find peace in the effort?


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Creativity: round robin brainstorming can lead to strong writing

Talking the story into life
Partner and group brainstorming: I use this technique in my creative writing class. We gather around the table and discuss ideas. After we settle on one, I step back and write down each plot point or character decision as they work through them and build a consensus.

Now and then I read through what they have so far, and then the group is off again revamping, adding, changing.  Epiphanies fly about their heads, like those crazy fireworks you set on the ground and dodge as they zip off in random directions.  My students ram through half-baked thoughts as quickly as their mouths can speak them, making connections and changes to enhance emerging motifs.  And each student adds more flame and fires-up another idea.

That's brainstorming for strong writing.  That is the achievement of more than one mind reaching for development, precision, cohesion. I love those moments because they don't just make for great writing, they make for the truly creative moment. If you have ever been a runner or done any kind of exercise that demands individual focus for more than half an hour, you may have felt the sensation that makes you feel as if you could go on running forever; the pace is perfect, the weather, the degree of breathing.

You float along without really feeling your feet hit ground or the sensation of running at all, almost an out of body experience. Time seems to stands still.  When two or more people are on the same run through an idea, it's like that glorious running experience.  It feels as if you could create forever and you do not want to stop.

Very recently, just this past weekend, I felt like that.  I shared an idea I have been mulling over for a few months.  Soon my writer pal, Marcy Peska, and I were digging into the characters, their concerns, histories, families, questions, possibilities and my idea took on more life, seemed to breath a few halting breaths each time Marcy or I sent off another email between us.  The characters that had been slipping into my creative moments stopped being just skin deep. 

Sharing with Marcy and gleaning tidbits from her knowledge and experience made for development I would have taken much longer to come around to by myself.  What I love most about brainstorming with Marcy is that her questions are framed so that my characters are real people.  "Does Joan have Alzheimer's in her family?"  Now I have to sit down with Joan and find out about her family history and for very good reason.  Colleen in a matter of seconds became even stronger because she is the type of person Marcy likes.  That alone added considerable depth to what was already a strong-minded woman.

Brainstorming with another writer or an interested friend is my kind of idea development. I am sure many of you use this same process. Is it a major factor in your process?  What others benefit idea development?

+Marcy Peska