Thursday, March 15, 2007

Rewriting History

I love how some people rewrite history to make themselves look cool.

Not long ago I read of someone who had "stumbled on a picture in a book, which made her cry, then that night she had to write a story". Then we hear how well it did etc.

Trouble is the actuality was this was on a Kingfisher Barn writing course, where the tutor put picture books in front of everybody, got them to pick out 1-2 pictures that caused an emotional connection... we then discussed what that connection might "mean" internally, whad did the picture "connect to"... and we talked about how Dorthea Brande had highlighted why some things struck us and not others.

OK, so the students were then asked to use the picture, to write ABOUT THE PICTURE (what it drove, what it suggested) but to USE THEIR OWN INTERNAL ACHES, PAINS, PRESSURES for the story's energy.

Duly the story in question (plus many others) was written. It had a little of the ache, but as often happens, it missed the gold spot. Discussion, suggested edits followed. Any closer? Yes. More work, more edits.

Was it then a world-beater? No, but the writer had skill and was getting there. It was publishable, but still didn't quite hit home the way a comp winner does. The writer moved on. The story got the level of success a decent, imperfect story from a very good (but still learning) writer it deserved.

I write this because the author in question has produced a version of the events which cuts out

(a) a long hard apprenticeship

(b) an intense £60 a day experience which helped her to reach these insights

(c) the fact that the accessing was deliberate and engineered

(d) the fact that the picture and a gut response was one small (though crucial) ingredient

(e) there was input from the course tutor and others in group discussion

(f) the story was written "to order' via a writing course, ot through some mystical process

(g) the story had a lot of critical input and rewriting advice, rewriting

It's important to access the unconscious, to find the stories within us. But those stories come from a massive amount of work practice etc, often with one or more teachers. Beginners should not be misled into imagining that better stories come in some magical way. 95% DON'T.

We can find these "keys" using simple, understood, straightforward processes. Deliberate "dreaming", using photographs and objects, using flash prompts and story prompts.

While SOME, a few, stories may seem to come from the ether, many if not most come from craft, work, getting into the mood, with or without a crit-group, with or without an editor, with or without a tutor guiding us.

And when that first draft is complete, we should do our utmost to ensure that others know that critical input, editorial input, and one-two three or more rewrites produced the finished article, not magic



Vanessa Gebbie said...

Im more than happy to reiterate, as Ive done loads of times, that this story was written in your spare room, Alex, on one of your courses.

Ive used it as a wonderful example of opening up feelings... and now I understand the processes behind the thing.

Its been said oodles of times, and I certainly don't seek to make myself look as though I write without having been taught how, or without making it clear what hard, painful work it can be.

Rewriting? jesus. How many hundreds of times have I fiddled with this story?

To no avail.


But I wont give up, and I guess thats one of the many things I learned at BC

so thanks,


Alex Keegan said...

Thanks for posting, Vanessa, it sure beats those low-life, cowardly "anons".

Incidentally, if you know any, let them know that from now on I'll just delete anons and funny names that don't Google.

As for you/you story, I wasn't trying to claim any credit. It was more to do with making sure beginners and intermediates reading your blog (or mine) were not misled into thinking this game is easy.

Boot Camp is called Boot Camp because it forces members to put the work in (or they get thrown out). WHY? Because the single most important reason people fail to become writers is they are lazy and full of excuses.

Congratulations, BTW on your wins this year and your placing at Fish