What is your story about?
What is it really about?
These are the important questions, writer and teacher of writing, Robin Hemley gets writers of memoir and non-fiction to ask themselves. Seven times. Each.
So, what is your story about? What is it really about? Write your way down to find the hidden depths and themes of your work. It’s not just for non-fiction writers either, fiction writers benefit from exactly the same process. If you ever get the editorial comment, “Go deeper”, you need to ask yourself these questions and delve into the emotional and spiritual heart of your story.
You can try doing this before you’ve written a first draft but for me it always works best once that crappy first draft is on the page.
Amanda Lohrey, esteemed Australian author, who I was lucky enough to have as an advisor for my Masters Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Queensland, calls this initial stage of writing, that shitty but all important first draft, EXCAVATING. And that’s just what we’re doing, digging around, digging deeper and wider, throwing everything in until somewhere along the line, maybe two or three drafts later, we strike gold. But we can’t find that gold until we do the messy work of delving deep.
For me this process works best if I sit and focus first, clear my mind and send that troublesome inner-critic from the room. See my guided meditation on how to do this. Once you’re centred and settled, tune into your body and the emotions that are stirring and wanting to be expressed in your story. Sit with that story or scene or section, FEEL it, then plunge into a big free write around it. Throw in everything that floats to the top of your consciousness. Anything. Everything. Write fast and furiously until you have exhausted the topic.
Usually I’m a big believer in less is more, but in this case more and more and more is better. Sometimes there’s a whole mountain of scrap metal, rocks and dirt that has to be cleared away before you strike that shining vein of gold.
Write your way deeper and deeper, right around it and through it and you’ll eventually find your gems. Then you extract your precious jewels from all the detritus and insert only the very best, polished stones into your story.
Don’t worry about all those wasted words. I keep files of offcuts, just to soothe my anxious self, and though most of the time all that trash stays in the trash, sometimes I fossick out another hidden gem to use in a different story.
Are you shying away from the emotional heart of your story? Don’t. Dig deep. Mine your body and life for feelings and meaning and allow them space in your writing.
After all, what are we writing for? I don’t know about you, but I write to move people. To make them feel something. To give them a chance to walk in someone else’s shoes. As writers we have the greatest tool for spreading compassion at our fingertips. Through story we get as close as is humanly possible to the world experience, life, and heart of another human.
That is a great gift.
Don’t be afraid to write your heart onto the page. It is what creates connection. And in these challenging times, we need connection more than ever.
So, what is your story about? What is it really about?
Have a go and let me know what you come up with!
In other news, we’re launching Our Inside Voices, this Sunday 23 August 2020 10:30 – 12 at Orleigh Park West End, opposite the entrance to Montague Rd. Come along and say hi. I’ll be doing a reading along with a few of my fellow contributors.
Take care and keep smiling through all this madness. The world is still a beautiful place full of joy and wonder.
Lots of love