The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, May 13, 2006


by Patricia Parkinson


I spoke to a dear friend today about writing.

I love talking about writing, talking about the heart of writing, not the structure. I believe that you can know nothing about structure and still be an excellent writer. This is what I keep telling myself anyway, that, and if you don't have some “thing" that sets you apart or you don’t possess a magical, freaky insight into the human condition that makes the reader go, "Ohhh," when they read it, all the structure in the world won’t get you anywhere.

Anyway, we were discussing conflict. Barf. Isn't there enough grief in the world? I hate conflict and have avoided it as much as humanly possibly my entire life. It comes as no surprise that the conflict in my stories is somewhat hidden, invisible even. I refer to my conflict as, subtle.

"But you have to have conflict," my friend said. "And there has to be change. There has to be."

"Yeah," I said, and agreed even though spiritually I disagreed but didn't want to cause any conflict. See, it's ingrained in me.

We talked and mostly I listened. My friend is a brilliant writer. We lamented the shortage of happy ending stories and agreed that movies should come with an “Unhappy Ending” warning label so we can be prepared, once again. to have our hearts broken. Why do we have to have our hearts broken?

"Can't we just be happy?" I asked my friend.

Apparently not. If the story isn't about some form of suffering and turmoil and heartache told metaphorically with a symbolic theme, it doesn't stand a chance.

And then, well, let's not forget angst and loss. Loss makes for great angst. Odd angst, ie: the loss of Starbucks egg nog latte - if done right, is vulnerable in a quirky and unique way. True weirdness works best.

"And edge," my friend said. "let's not forget, everyone wants edge."

Edge. Edge? What is this elusive edge they seek? It makes me wonder, "Do I have to be a heroin addict to be a good writer?" How many more veins must I open? Have I opened any? I have. I'm sure of it. I think.

When you open a vein does it mean you have to slit it, like, boom! Heeloo? Can't you read that I committed suicide writing that last paragraph? Can't you feel the emotional wreckage it's left me in? Is this not enough...edge? Maybe not.

Maybe I'm not slitting a vein. Maybe I'm caressing my veins, getting to know them, getting closer to an edge that isn't a cliff. Maybe my edge leads to something wonderous and not to something to fear. I like to think that.

"Unless," my friend said. "It's beautifully written. That disqualifies everything else. Great writing is great writing, regardless.”

"You're a great writer,” I told my friend.

"Well, you're a good writer too."

"A good writer? I said you were a great writer."

"Good. Great. It's the same thing."

I nearly nodded but said instead, "No, it's not the same thing," and had conflict.

"Okay. Okay," my friend said, chuckling. "You're a great writer. You are. Okay?" Which facilitated change.

And we were happy.


Anonymous Denis said...

Good point, Patricia. A writer can learn to hone his craft, but s/he still has to have something interesting to say. And you've reminded me that a writer has to be in know as to what specific editors are looking to publish in their zines; edgy, contemporary, experimental, traditonal, cutting-edge. It's a task just figuring out what it all means!

Sat May 13, 11:32:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

I love this! Yes, we must suffer as we write to bring the reader to some high or low point. It's exhausting. But you don't need to worry. You write your heart out, Patricia. You've found the edge.

Sat May 13, 03:31:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger craig said...

Love how you end this Patricia, with the agent of change.

You are preaching to the choir on this one. Conflict - heroin addict style - is something I also struggle with; ditto the wanting of happy endings or at least redemption. Why is there such a proliference of dark, edgy, stories? It reminds me how the comedies always get slagged at the oscars - truth is, and a lot of actors know this, comedy is damn hard.
So is writing a story with subtle conflict and dare we say "joy-inducing".

Mon May 15, 09:52:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Patricia said...

I know, not much market for happiness, maybe we can change this?? I don't think so though, but hey, one story at a time, thanks for reading everyone xoxo

Mon May 15, 01:10:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Patricia, you are absolutely the funniest great writer I've read in a long time. I giggle at all your posts. I'm smiling right now. See?

Tue May 16, 10:26:00 am GMT-4  
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Anonymous Wendi said...

When we are born our brains are like empty computers waiting to be fed information. As we grow our peers act as our programmers, they supply us with the knowledge which we channel through the conscious mind into the subconscious (our hard drive). The subconscious mind is the biggest hard drive ever developed - it stores everything we come in contact with and by no means is all of this information of a positive nature.
All that we have heard, touched, smelt, tasted and seen are stored in the recesses of our minds. The subconscious mind holds on to this information until we need to recall it. For example when you were young your curiosity lead you to investigate your surroundings. When you approached a substance that was dangerous, such as fire, your parents or guardians would most likely have rebuked or scolded you if you ventured too near the flame. Perhaps you may even recall an incident when you were physically burned. Your subconscious mind then began to relate scolding (or pain) with the intense heat of the fire and would therefore feed the feelings of the scolding incident back to you whenever you got too close to fire again, thus acting as an early warning system.
This is the mechanism used by our brains to learn. It is also the same method employed by the mind in every situation. The subconscious mind has a tendency to emulate what it sees - it tends to replicate its environment. This is why so many people find themselves in similar relationships and situations that they saw their parents in while they were growing up. Most people also hold very strongly or similar views of their parents.
Think of a time when you gave yourself praise. What words did you use? Do you use the same words that your parents or peers used when they were praising you? The same is applicable when you scold yourself.

Watch your internal dialogue. Look at it closely. It takes diligence to change the way you think. When you notice yourself thinking a negative chose to think the opposite. This way you neutralise the negative thought. Now the think the positive thought again! You have just reversed the negative thinking in that moment and remember you only have this moment. No other time exists!
Daydream about what might be. Imagine things they way you wish them to be. If you catch yourself thinking "this is just a daydream - a fantasy" then stop! Think the opposite. It is not a daydream it is your reality. Now think it again.

By doing this simple procedure you will begin to retrain your subconscious mind to think positively and you will ultimately begin to consciously create a life that dreams are made of!

Fri Jun 23, 09:40:00 am GMT-4  

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