Monday, May 3, 2010

The ghost in you, she don't fade

I keep being haunted by a question I was asked last week. I was speaking to a King Arthur in Literature course about Linger, and the question and answer session at the end was amazing - the students asked really thoughtful, interesting questions. One sticks in my mind:

How do you get back out of the story, when you're done with it?

Linger is a dark story, and a lot of bad things happen to Aislinn. It's told in first person, and the young woman who asked that question was concerned that point of view made it difficult for me, as a writer, to step out of the story when I was done writing it. What I told her is true: sometimes it does. Sometimes Aislinn's emotions are still under my skin when I put the pen down, and so I cancel plans with my friends and hide in my house, because I'm not quite ready to rejoin the world.

Sometimes living through Aislinn's emotions - a process that is necessary, for me, if I am going to understand them well enough to write them (although by all means, this is not the only way to write) - helps me. I used to have nightmares. Terrible ones, where I would wake up screaming, or shaking, soaked in sweat and reeking of fear. Writing hers seems to have purged mine.

But I also feel like I gave an incomplete answer to that question. Because, sometimes the hard part isn't walking back out of the story, it's walking into it when I know something bad is going to happen. Especially when I am revising, and I know that something difficult is coming up, I will go through all sorts of displacement activities to avoid sitting down and living through that scene. The temptation to pull back, to make it hurt less to write, is constant. The reason that I don't is because then I would be haunted. Haunted by the way the story should have been, by telling a lie instead of a truth. Getting the story right is what makes it possible for me to step out of it when it's finished.


  1. Yes. Take good care of Aislinn, and she'll begin to take good care of you.


  2. Thanks so much for sharing the details of your writing process. I always find it interesting to read these "how I do it" accounts by other writers (even more so if I know and like the work).

    You know, I always feel slightly worried when I read about the intense involvement other writers have with their characters and their stories. Worried in the sense that it's almost completely unknown to me. A good writing session, for me, is spent in a state of complete and utter zombification. Write write write write write, done for today, next.

    I'm thinking it's self-induced, because otherwise it would be impossible to return to the grind (or, the .doc) each day. Sort of reminds me of people's accounts of marathons. In the last miles, it starts hurting, and you read everywhere that this is the time to dig deep and draw strength from memories of inspirational moments of one kind or the other. But in my experience, you're simply too *tired* to think at that point, and getting emotional only makes it worse...

    Bottom line, it's certainly interesting to look at the differences in "process."

    And I couldn't agree more on your last point: Having a sense that the story is "right" is the best way of achieving closure and moving on, leaving the characters behind in the book after our imagination has left them physically damaged, emotionally numb, and generally confused, asking..."what just happened...? Wait, where's my happy end?!"

    Heh heh *the evil writer's snicker*

  3. I definitely relate to the "zombification" style writing process as well. That's how I wrote the short story in the first place, and a lot of the first draft.

    Whatever it takes to sit down every day and open the notebook (or the file.) Which is really all that matters - getting the right words on the page, no matter how they get there.

  4. I must echo Steffi and say that I, too, so enjoy reading about the way other people (particularly people I know) work. I'm always impressed when I hear writers talk about getting emotionally wrung out while writing... My first drafts feel like I'm watching a movie, though from the inside, and it's never til revision that I settle down to the insides of my characters' heads.

    What a perceptive question though!