This post is about engine systems that manipulate solar winds for FTL drives in sci-fi stori...
Ah, who am I kidding? I'm not writing about that. What I've actually been thinking about is something Book said the other day, about how writing serves as a sort of cathartic process for him. This meshed with a conversation I had with my wife about poetry and got me thinking about art as exorcism... and how this isn't me.
So, propulsion systems... what drives the words onto the page for you? We've touched on the reasons we write, yet how do we go from a want or need to actually writing?
I'm gonna jump back to that poetry conversation for a moment... We were talking about how writing poetry is often cathartic (at least from our subjective observations). My wife often writes her poetry out of emotion, out of feeling something, out of an experience that brims up and overflows, and so to keep yourself from drowning you scoop up some of that excess, some of that overflow, and plant it on the page. The poem, if you will, is a translation of emotion into language. I've found this sort of process, this propulsive drive, is really very common among poets. Confessional poets, of course, but many others too. It seems natural... a feeling, a release of that emotion onto the page... a cathartic moment. Poetry is language at its most expressive, a short form that can be completed quickly while the emotion (whether recent or remembered) is still closely felt... and poetry thus seems perfect for this sort of cathartic experience. The few poems of my own that were ever any good (the very few...) were the ones that enacted this translation process in some way, growing themselves out of a sharply felt emotion or emotional experience.
And people write fiction with this sort of drive at its heart (as Book suggested of himself). This realization, though, was shadowed by the realization that this process was not my own, that this is not what drives me to get those words on the page. So what was my process? What propelled me to turn an idea into a story, into this odd thing woven out of words and sentences? What I realized was that, in many ways, my drive is the opposite of my wife's poetic process, sort of an invert of this need for exorcism or release. My propulsion system is, I think, explorative.
It's less about having something, and needing to get it out, as it is about wanting something, and needing to get it in. Ideas, characters, stories... they float about and intrigue me, draw me toward them, compel and fascinate me... and so I ask, What is this? What's the true nature of this idea, its beating heart? My need is less to share something than to try and inhabit something, a need to explore and understand, to feel and experience... Something grabs me, and I see its surface... but to really understand it (or at least attempt such an understanding) I need to write, I need to delve in and find the depths.
My newest novel manuscript, The Terrible Weight of Gravity, is the story of a woman who is kidnapped and held for ransom in a cell. I knew nothing, really, about this sort of thing, nor was I trying to represent some other aspect of my life or experience, some other aspect of my emotional terrain, by portraying this story. When I started writing I didn't know anything about the subject that I had to share, I had no experiences that gave me any knowledge or understanding worth repeating... but I wanted to know. I was drawn to it, I think, precisely because it was alien, precisely because it was so far from anything I had experienced. What is it like to be trapped in a cell? Aside from actually trapping myself in a cell (no thank you), the only way for me to come to some sort of understanding was to 1) read about it, and 2) write about it.
It's a bit like acting, maybe, a need to put on a new face, to feel a new experience. Maybe writing stories, for me, is sort of like an Acting Method for Introverts. I can't climb on stage (or into a film) and transform myself into a woman trapped in a cell (I don't have that gift), but maybe I can do it inside my own head. And maybe my fingers can translate that slow exploration of character and scene onto the page, finding a form that might allow me to share this interior experience with others... just as my favourite books have shared experiences with me.
Pay it forward. I've been given many beautiful and important stories over the years, stories that have shaped who and what I am, and so perhaps it is only natural that I want to return the favour, to offer my own stories as payment for the gifts I've received. Hey, it's Christmas, right? What better time for giving?
So, anyone listening in, what drives you? You an exorcist or an explorer? Or something else entirely?