The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Writing is Easy and Fun for Me

by Tricia Dower

I’ve been struggling with a story since the beginning of March and in a state dangerously approaching despair for three weeks. I'm ashamed of such egocentricity in the face of poverty, disease, war and oppression in many parts of the world. How privileged I am to even have the freedom to write.

But here I am, anyway, mired in a morass of my mind’s making. Paralysed by indecision and insecurity reflected in the file names I’ve given to generations of let’s call it Stupid Story: First Person Stupid Story, Third Person Stupid Story, Two POVs Stupid Story, Experimenting with Time Stupid Story, Deconstructed Stupid Story, Narrative Approach Stupid Story, Stream of Consciousness Stupid Story and, finally, Last Chance Stupid Story. There are thirty-six (and counting) separate, dated drafts under these various headings. I want to scream and cry in frustration at not being done with it.

About a week and a half ago, two stars collided to begin bringing me out of this funk. The first was a lecture by W.D. (Bill) Valgardson. He has had thirteen books published (including The Girl with the Botticelli Face), a dozen plays produced and five movies made from his stories. Bill taught creative writing at UVic for thirty years and I’ll bet he was inspirational. One of his more celebrated students was W.P. Kinsella (Shoeless Joe). Among several pearls he cast before this particular swine was that self-censure is even worse than official censorship. You can write to please others or you can write what you care about. Positive self-talk is critical. No one can give up for you. Only you can do that.

The second star was Michael Ondaatje’s Divisadero. As I drafted last week’s blog, expressing my admiration for the author’s courage to break conventional literary rules, it came to me: I had been anticipating the reaction of others to what I was writing. (It’s too weird, no one will get it.) An old demon of mine had been at work — my tendency to believe that anyone else’s opinion has more validity than mine. So what if I’m the only one who “gets” my story? Ondaatje was practicing what Valgardson preached. Both of them had given me a message I badly needed to hear.

"I had a breakthrough,” I told Colin. He was so relieved he brought me flowers and reminded me of the song Make Your Own Kind of Music.

I e-mailed Bill to tell him how much I appreciated his lecture and he sent me a list of thirty writing affirmations. Here are just a few I’m keeping in mind right now:

  • The more I take it easy, the more I accomplish.
  • I always know what to do next.
  • I always finish everything I start.
  • It's safe for me to share my work.
  • The more I reveal myself in my work, the safer I am.
  • Writing is easy and fun for me.

P.S. Stupid Story is nearly done. Definitely different but it’s mine.

Photo: Bill Valgardson

Image: A postcard, artist unknown.


Blogger tamara said...

Fantastic, you! And inspirational. Keep it up. I can't remember off-hand what it was, but something Ondaatje said in an interview broke a block for me, too. I saw Bill a few times, though never had him as an instructor. He's so seemingly calm, isn't he? And that he responded... Wonderful.

You know, it's so much fun reading about your life there where I once lived and tried to learn to write. It's like a renaissance for me.

Sat May 26, 10:46:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...

Maybe you are familiar with my stories, "Last Chance1," "Last Chance2," "Last Chance3," and so on.

Sat May 26, 07:40:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks for reading, you two. It's lonely here on the weekends.

Sat May 26, 08:04:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Oh Tricia! Just what I needed to read today/this week/this month :) I've been beside myself with low morale these days. (I'm missing you guys sooooo much!) This post is a gem I will return to again and again. Thanks so much for passing on those affirmations.

Sat May 26, 10:40:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Hey, you're welcome, Jen! So glad this helps you. And we miss you, too.

Sun May 27, 02:42:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Yup, I relate to this. I will borrow those affirmations I think.

Mon May 28, 12:40:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

36 drafts...I can never make it past 2. You need to add one more positive affirmation to the list:

You are an amazing writer.

Nuff said.

Tue May 29, 02:53:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Steve! It's good to have a cheerleader.

Tue May 29, 04:46:00 pm GMT-4  

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